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Plural Marriage in Kirtland & Nauvoo - Response to



The essay, "Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo," was added to the topical guide of the website on 22 October 2014. The essay focuses on the polygamous marriages of Joseph Smith. It is found here: Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo

The essay addresses some of the shortfalls of the Church's first essay on polygamy which completely omitted Joseph Smith's relationships.

A MormonThink editor responds to the Plural Marriage in Kirtland & Nauvoo essay below. Special thanks to the following: Mormon Discussions' poster Rollo Tomasi, who I borrow heavily from his response to the essay; Alison Udall and her responses on Main Street Plaza; Mormon Matters - podcast #256 (with guests LDS apologist Brian Hales, LDS author Todd Compton and Barbara Brown); Mormon Stories - podcast #503 (with guests With John Dehlin, Lindsay Hansen Park, John Hamer and J. Nelson-Seawright); Kim M. Clark's essay Angels with Swords; an excellent annotated response to the essay from a collaborator who I exchange research with: - Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo; as well as several posters on Mormon Discussions.

NOTE: It should be noted that [as of 1/13/15] this essay does not appear in the Gospel Topics List of The original polygamy essay is there, along with the other essays, but this essay and the post 1890 Polygamy essays are not included in the essay list. Why would this be? As we stated in our introduction to the essays, the Church doesn't really want all of its members to read these essays. The Church appears to only want members that already know about these issues to read the essays. The essay on Plural Marriage in Kirtland & Nauvoo can only be accessed via direct link.

Significant facts presented

1) Essay states that Joseph married between 30 and 40 women (footnote 24):

Careful estimates put the number between 30 and 40. See Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy, 2:272–73.


2) Essay states (under the heading 'Joseph Smith and Plural Marriage'):

Joseph Smith was sealed to a number of women who were already married.

Most estimates place the number to at least 11 women who were concurrently married to living husbands when their were sealed to Joseph.


3) Essay states (under the heading 'Joseph Smith and Plural Marriage'):

The youngest was Helen Mar Kimball, daughter of Joseph's close friends Heber C. and Vilate Murray Kimball, who was sealed to Joseph several months before her 15th birthday.

This is another uncomfortable truth now acknowledged by the Church: Joseph Smith married 14 year-old Helen Kimball when Joseph was 37 years old. Although not mentioned in the essay, Joseph also married another 14 year-old girl, Nancy Winchester, and at least eight other teenagers. Wives of Joseph Smith


4) Essay states (under the heading 'Joseph Smith and Plural Marriage'):

Sealings for time and eternity included commitments and relationships during this life, generally including the possibility of sexual relations.

The essay takes several paragraphs and lots of convoluted language, but this is the first official Church statement to open the door to the possibility that Joseph had sex with many of his polygamous wives, including some of those who were married to other men.

This is significant in that many Church members have adamantly argued that Joseph did not have sex with his plural wives, especially the ones who were already married, despite clear evidence to the contrary.


5) Essay states (under the heading 'Joseph and Emma'):

But Emma likely did not know about all of Joseph's sealings.

This is significant as many Mormons do not know that Joseph kept many of his marriages secret from his first wife Emma, in direct opposition to the direction stated in D&C 132.

Errors & misleading statements

1) Starting with the first paragraph, the essay states:

In biblical times, the Lord commanded some of His people to practice plural marriage—the marriage of one man and more than one woman

The Bible verses quoted in the footnotes (Genesis 16) indicate only that polygamy occurred, not that God commanded it. The Book of Mormon verse provided is Jacob 2:30 which does not say that God commanded people to practice polygamy. In fact, the verses preceding it ( Jacob 2:27, 30) actually condemn polygamy. In other Bible verses not referenced in the article, the God of the Bible did not seem to necessarily disapprove of polygamy but he did not command it either. Moreover, there is little to no evidence that the Mormons were adhering to the rules stated in the Bible about polygamy. For example, Leviticus 18 forbids marrying a mother and her daughter, and marrying sisters, but both practices were common among the Mormons. (Campbell & Campbell, 1978; Daynes 2001, p 70)

Mainstream Christian churches typically view polygamy in the Bible as historical information reported, but not promoted: Shield & Refuge and What Love is This.


2) 2nd paragraph excerpt:

After receiving a revelation commanding him to practice plural marriage, Joseph Smith married multiple wives and introduced the practice to close associates.

This gives the impression that the revelation on polygamy happened all at once… "a" revelation. No mention of the 1835 edition of the D&C Section 101 which stated "Inasmuch as this church of Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication, and polygamy: we declare that we believe, that one man should have one wife; and one woman, but one husband, except in case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again." This was later changed, under the direction of Brigham Young, in 1876 to the current D&C Section 132.


3) 3rd paragraph excerpt:

Although the Lord commanded the adoption—and later the cessation—of plural marriage in the latter days, He did not give exact instructions on how to obey the commandment.

This statement deserves a response. Why did the essay include this? Is it trying to give the impression that perhaps mistakes were made? It's difficult to imagine God requiring this and leaving it vague, without exact instructions. This is the God who requires specific wording for blessing the sacrament, baptism, and other ordinances. This is a god who revealed what part of a cow to burn, and how to sprinkle blood in the Old Testament. D&C 132 is quite specific and has a lot of detail in it concerning how to obey the commandment of polygamy. It specifically says in D&C 132: 8 "Behold, mine house is a house of order, saith the Lord God, and not a house of confusion."

There are certainly lots of very specific instructions given in D&C 132. What about the parts that are ignored? In D&C 132: 61-63 it says:

61 And again, as pertaining to the law of the priesthood—if any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse another, and the first give her consent, and if he espouse the second, and they are virgins, and have vowed to no other man, then is he justified; he cannot commit adultery for they are given unto him; for he cannot commit adultery with that that belongeth unto him and to no one else.

62 And if he have ten virgins given unto him by this law, he cannot commit adultery, for they belong to him, and they are given unto him; therefore is he justified.

63But if one or either of the ten virgins, after she is espoused, shall be with another man, she has committed adultery, and shall be destroyed; for they are given unto him to multiply and replenish the earth, according to my commandment, and to fulfil the promise which was given by my Father before the foundation of the world, and for their exaltation in the eternal worlds, that they may bear the souls of men; for herein is the work of my Father continued, that he may be glorified.

The D&C states that the plural wives must be virgins. We know that some of the women Joseph married were not virgins and some were married to other men.

The D&C states that the first wife must give her consent. This was not done in many cases, especially with Joseph as he kept many of his marriages secret from Emma. Many others such as Heber Kimball, mentioned in this essay, married his first plural wife, Sarah Noon without even letting his wife, Vilate know.

Contrary to the quote from the essay, some instructions were given, but they were ignored by Joseph and others. It strains credulity that God would threaten people with destruction and send an angel with a sword to enforce the commandment but not give instructions on how it was to be practiced.


4) 3rd paragraph excerpt:

President Wilford Woodruff issued an inspired statement known as the Manifesto in 1890, which led to the end of plural marriage in the Church.

Polygamy did not end with the 1890 Manifesto as the essay implies. There is no mention anywhere (text or endnote) about the 1904 "Second Manifesto," which actually did end (with a few exceptions not relevant here) the LDS Church's continuing practice and sanction of post-Manifesto polygamy. Many faithful Mormons haven't heard of, or know little about, the Second Manifesto because it was never canonized (as the 1890 Manifesto was, now known as "Official Declaration—1" at the end of the D&C) and is rarely discussed.

Although the Second Manifesto is discussed in a sister-essay entitled "The Manifesto and the End of Plural Marriage" (which MT will write about in a separate paper), omitting it entirely from this Essay leaves behind a gaping hole that LDS members can only fill by reading a different essay so most readers of this essay will come away with the erroneous impression that the LDS Church ended polygamy in 1890.


5) 4th paragraph excerpt:

Many details about the early practice of plural marriage are unknown. Plural marriage was introduced among the early Saints incrementally, and participants were asked to keep their actions confidential. They did not discuss their experiences publicly or in writing until after the Latter-day Saints had moved to Utah and Church leaders had publicly acknowledged the practice.

While there are many details that remain unknown about early plural marriage, there is a wealth of credible, scholarly work that supports a more complete and complex story than the essay implies.1 The essay suggests that we can only speculate about certain details, yet it repeatedly dismisses or ignores well-documented details while cherry-picking details that support protecting Joseph Smith's reputation. It casts doubt on how much we can know and understand about what happened, and yet heavily engages in selective speculation that downplays or discounts the experiences of those most negatively impacted by early polygamy, including Joseph's only legal wife, Emma Hale Smith.

Asking participants to keep their actions confidential is equivalent to asking them to keep it secret. The essay asserts that they did not discuss their experiences in writing, but there are written accounts by William Clayton and Wilford Woodruff discussing polygamy. Joseph Smith himself sent letters to his polygamous wives for meetings while Emma was away.

1 Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness; Richard Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy; Brian Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy History; Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippets Avery, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith; Fawn Brodie, No Man Knows My History; George D. Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy; The Joseph Smith Papers, Orson F. Whitney; William Clayton's Journal, The Life of Heber C. Kimball; BYU Studies; Richard Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling


6) 4th paragraph excerpt:

The historical record of early plural marriage is therefore thin: few records of the time provide details, and later reminiscences are not always reliable. Some ambiguity will always accompany our knowledge about this issue. Like the participants, we "see through a glass, darkly" and are asked to walk by faith.

The implication being, once again, that we just don't have enough information to understand. This time the essay includes a warning that later reminiscences may be unreliable. This is interesting since throughout the essay later reminiscences are included, but only when they suit the intended purpose. Interestingly, the church didn't hesitate to use later reminiscences legally in court cases in 1870. The essay conveniently leaves out credible, later reminiscences that don't fit with the intended goals of the narrative.

In endnote 29, for example, an article by apostle John A. Widtsoe is cited which reads: "The literature and existing documents dealing with plural marriage in Nauvoo in the day of Joseph Smith are very numerous. Hundreds of affidavits on the subject are in the Church Historian's office in Salt Lake City. Most of the books and newspaper and magazine articles on the subject are found there also" (Widtsoe 1946).

In endnotes 25 and 26, the essay authors quote Bringhurst & Foster's 2010 book The Persistence of Polygamy which starts with an overview of "the plethora of books articles, and essays dealing with Mormon polygamy" and speaks of a "multitude of historical documents" (p. ix). "Literally hundreds of books", the introduction claims, "have been written on the topic of Mormon polygamy" (p. 2).

So we have hundreds of books about polygamy, hundreds of affidavits from early Mormons who were personally involved in polygamy, as well as many other historical documents like marriage records, journals, letters, newspaper articles, etc. They contain details about every aspect of the first polygamous Mormon marriages. These sources are not a matter of faith either; in fact, most of them can be consulted quite easily these days by anyone with an internet connection.

The reliability of "later reminiscences" can be determined by comparing them to the rest of the historical record. By pretending these sources do not exist, the authors exempt themselves from such methodological rigor. Instead, they ask the reader to "walk by faith".


1) 1st paragraph under 'The Beginnings of Plural Marriage in the Church' excerpt:

The revelation on plural marriage was not written down until 1843, but its early verses suggest that part of it emerged from Joseph Smith's study of the Old Testament in 1831. People who knew Joseph well later stated he received the revelation about that time.

The essay suggests Joseph received the revelation in 1831 but it was not written down until 1843. It neglects to mention one of the reasons why people later stated he received it about that time. In 1861, W.W. Phelps wrote Brigham Young about a revelation received on July 17, 1831 west of Independence for Elders who were about to commence a mission to Native Americans West of Missouri:

For it is my will, that in time, ye should take unto you wives of the Lamanites and Nephites, that their posterity may become white, delightsome and Just, for even now their females are more virtuous than the gentiles.

In 1834, Phelps is said to have asked Joseph Smith

how 'we,' that were mentioned in the revelation could take wives from the "natives"—as we were all married men?

Joseph replied instantly

In th[e] same manner that Abraham took Hagar and Katurah [Keturah]; and Jacob took Rachel Bilhah and Zilpah: by revelation—the saints of the Lord are always directed by revelation.

Quotes come from W. W. Phelps letter to Brigham Young, 12 August 1861, LDS archives.

Why wasn't this included in the essay or the footnotes? Perhaps it's because it's completely racist and uncomfortable to hear.


2) 1st paragraph under 'The Beginnings of Plural Marriage in the Church' excerpt:

Joseph prayed to know why God justified Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, and Solomon in having many wives. The Lord responded that He had commanded them to enter into the practice.

According to the Bible, these men were not "commanded" to take additional wives. The Genesis 16 reference (essay's footnote 2) is about Abram's wife Sarai, who is unable to conceive. Sarai asks Hagar, her handmaid, to act as surrogate. God did not command Abram to take Hagar as a plural wife. Sarai asked him to sleep with her so she could bear a child. Not only that but after Hagar becomes pregnant, Sarai is quite upset, and Abram tells Sarai "thy maid is in thy hand; do to her as it pleaseth thee. And when Sarai dealt harshly with her, she fled from her face."

The mention of David and Solomon does not really help make the biblical case for polygamy either. Although D&C 132 characterizes David's and Solomon's polygamy as not a "sin," their polygamy is denounced as an "abomination" in the Book of Mormon.

Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord. (Jacob 2:24)


3) 2nd paragraph under 'The Beginnings of Plural Marriage in the Church' excerpt:

Ancient principles—such as prophets, priesthood, and temples—would be restored to the earth. Plural marriage was one of those ancient principles.

Because the LDS Church believes, both in Joseph's time and today, that we are living in the "dispensation of the fullness of times," the essay describes plural marriage as one of the "ancient principles" restored to earth. Nowhere in the Bible is polygamy described as an eternal principle that would need to be restored. D&C 132 states that polygamy has been an important part of God's overall plan since the days of Abraham, but that sentiment is not expressed in the Bible.

Grant Palmer accurately addresses the problem when he says, "It seems highly improbable … that God would bring back or 'restore' an ancient cultural custom that was not a doctrine. There is no evidence in the Old or New Testament that God commanded or directed any prophet or king to practice polygamy."

"Sexual Allegations against Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Polygamy in Nauvoo" by Grant H. Palmer


4) 3rd paragraph under 'The Beginnings of Plural Marriage in the Church' excerpt:

In Joseph Smith's time, monogamy was the only legal form of marriage in the United States.

The author seeks to soften the tone by saying that monogamy was the only legal form of marriage instead of simply saying the more to-the-point "polygamy was illegal in the United States." By specifically identifying the "United States," this gives the impression that polygamy was legal in other nearby countries like Mexico and Canada which is where many Mormons fled to escape the laws of the U.S. However, polygamy was also illegal in Mexico and Canada. This contradicts the 12th Article of Faith:

We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.

12th Article of Faith, written by the Prophet Joseph Smith.


5) 4th paragraph under 'The Beginnings of Plural Marriage in the Church' excerpt:

When God commands a difficult task, He sometimes sends additional messengers to encourage His people to obey.

The angel did not 'encourage' Joseph as the essays states. The angel came with a drawn sword and threatened to kill Joseph.


drawn sword


6) 4th paragraph under 'The Beginnings of Plural Marriage in the Church' excerpt:

Consistent with this pattern, Joseph told associates that an angel appeared to him three times between 1834 and 1842 and commanded him to proceed with plural marriage when he hesitated to move forward. During the third and final appearance, the angel came with a drawn sword, threatening Joseph with destruction unless he went forward and obeyed the commandment fully.

Would God send an angel to Joseph threatening to kill him unless he obeyed? The essay suggests God sent an angel to force Joseph to do something he didn't want to do. Do we have other indications where this type of situation occurred in the scriptures or church history? What about Joseph's free agency? It doesn't indicate the date for the 1842 third visit from the angel (the one where he came with a drawn sword to threaten him). According to Todd Compton, by April of 1842 Joseph had married 10 women. Two of those were single, 7 were married and one was widowed. Between June and August of 1842 he married 6 additional women. Two of those were married, two were widowed and two were single. Why was the angel threatening him? Was he just not marrying women fast enough? What did the angel mean when he told Joseph he needed to obey the commandment fully?

This is highly interesting when you take into account what's written later in the essay as a possible explanation for Joseph's polyandry. It states Joseph "may have believed that sealings to married women would comply with the Lord's command without requiring him to have normal marriage relationships." This seems to imply that normal marriage relationships meant that they would have included sexual relations. Then it goes on to say "this could explain why, according to Lorenzo Snow, the angel reprimanded Joseph for having "demurred" on plural marriage even after he had entered into the practice. After this rebuke, according to this interpretation, Joseph returned primarily to sealings with single women." This seems to indicate that the angel was threatening Joseph on that third visit because he was not having "normal marriage relationships (sex). Perhaps the angel reminded him of the purpose for polygamy…raise up seed unto God". Interestingly, during 1843 he married 17 additional women. Fourteen of those were single, one was widowed and two were married.

However, this argument is flawed since Joseph had sex with the women he married who already had husbands as discussed later in this response.

Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 4-6.


While the Church claims that Joseph "hesitated to move forward," the evidence demonstrates no reluctance or hesitation whatsoever on his part. By his own admission, Joseph loved the ladies. "When I see a pretty woman," he confided, "I have to pray for grace."Dr. Wilhelm Ritter von Wymetal (1838—1896)—described by Eli H. Murray, Governor of Utah Territory (1880—1886) as a "highly cultivated and thoroughly reliable gentleman"– derisively referred to Joseph Smith as the "Don Juan of Nauvoo." According to "Dr. W. Wyl" (his penname),

"Joseph and John D. Lee were the most libidinous men I ever knew" says my friend Webb, who knew the prophet for eleven years. "Joseph was the most licentious and Brigham Young the most bloodthirsty of men" says Mrs. Sarah Pratt, who has known all these Mormon leaders during almost their whole career in the church.

Wilhelm Ritter von Wymetal, Mormon Portraits: Joseph Smith the Prophet, His Family and His Friends, 55 (SLC: Tribune Printing & Pub., 1886). Book may be found online at Link is here. accessed 10.30.2014. Ibid. 53; emphasis found in the original.


The only source which indicates that an angel appeared three times to Joseph Smith in that period, was Mary Rollins Lightner in 1905 (Hales 2010). However, Joseph Smith did not tell this to "his associates" but to her, in an ultimate effort to convince her to enter into a relationship with him (he had been pursuing her since 1831, when Mary was only 12 years old, see Newell & Avery 1994, p. 65).

All sources for the angel-with-the-drawn-sword-story are relatively late (the earliest one is from 1853), appear to be depending on each other and lack supporting evidence from Joseph Smith's lifetime. It's possible, then, that the story was made up later to create the impression that Joseph Smith engaged in polygamy under divine duress—a concept that doesn't really sit well with Mormon theology.


7) 5th paragraph under 'The Beginnings of Plural Marriage in the Church' excerpt:

Fragmentary evidence suggests that Joseph Smith acted on the angel's first command by marrying a plural wife, Fanny Alger, in Kirtland, Ohio, in the mid-1830s.

There is no documentation or eyewitnesses to support that an actual marriage took place. Faithful Church historians assume a marriage took place, otherwise they would have to refer to this relationship as an affair (as Oliver Cowdery did)—adultery. For those who believe a marriage must have taken place, they believe this happened in 1833, yet it is reported that the angel's first threat to Joseph was in 1834. It appears Joseph didn't need a threat from an angel for his first plural wife.

According to Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner (one of Joseph's polyandrous wives), Joseph told her that the first of the angel's three visits occurred in 1834, whereas at least one historian places the marriage between Joseph and Fanny in early 1833 (and possibly as early as 1832). (See Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, p. 33 (Signature Books 1998)). At that time Fanny was sixteen (Joseph was 27) and living and working in the Smith home. This appears to have been the commencement of Joseph's pattern of targeting young women living in his home.

There is disagreement about whether a marriage actually occurred between Joseph and Fanny. The fullest description of a possible Joseph Smith-Fanny Alger marriage is in the Mosiah Hancock autobiography. Mosiah, born on April 9, 1834, did not have first-hand knowledge of the marriage. But while writing his autobiography, apparently in 1896, he reported the story as told to him by his father, Levi Hancock. (This is one of those later reminiscences that faithful scholars choose to include.) What's left out of the biography and the essay is that Oliver Cowdery described it as a "dirty, nasty, filthy affair". (Cowdery, Oliver. Letterbook, 1833-1838. 21 Jan. 1838. Henry E. Huntington Library, San Marino, CA. ) "The sources written before 1839 indicate that most Church leaders knew nothing of a possible marriage. What they did know is suggested by the minutes of Oliver Cowdery's excommunication trial before the Far West High Council in April 1838, one of the few contemporaneous sources. Cowdery, long Joseph's friend and associate in visions, was a casualty of the bad times." (Richard Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, p. 324) One of the charges against Cowdery was "For seeking to destroy the Character of Pres. Joseph Smith Jr by falsly [sic] insinuating that he was guilty of adultery &c." (Journal, March-September 1838, The Joseph Smith Papers.) Although Fanny Alger's name is not mentioned in the charges, The Joseph Smith Papers acknowledges that it is referring to Fanny.


8) 5th paragraph under 'The Beginnings of Plural Marriage in the Church' excerpt:

Several Latter-day Saints who had lived in Kirtland reported decades later that Joseph Smith had married Alger, who lived and worked in the Smith household, after he had obtained her consent and that of her parents. Little is known about this marriage, and nothing is known about the conversations between Joseph and Emma regarding Alger.

Although we may not know their conversations, we do know something about how Emma reacted. Joseph did not get Emma's consent and she knew nothing of a marriage between Joseph and Fanny. Fanny's relationship with Emma was described in a very positive light; namely, that Emma was "extremely fond of her … and their affection for each other was a constant object of remark, so absorbing and genuine did it seem."But my how things changed when, in 1835, Emma "saw the transaction" (a more discrete way of saying that she espied the two 'romping in the hay') through a crack in the planks of the barn. Needless to say, "Emma was furious, and drove the girl, who was unable to conceal the consequences of her celestial relation with the prophet, out of her house." Some would like to believe, no doubt, that Smith was only doing what God required, even though he had done so without first securing Emma's consent. But if that was true, why would Smith later reveal to his close associate Oliver Cowdery that he had "confessed to Emma" and sought her forgiveness? Joseph's romp with Fanny was a sexual tryst, not a sacred marriage.

Brian Hales notes that

both Emma and Fanny were traumatized and Oliver Cowdery alienated. It is likely that the relationship contributed to his eventual disaffection. In addition, rumors of 'adultery' quietly spread among the Saints. While they were never loud enough to reach the local media, they required specific damage control efforts by the prophet. Chauncy Webb suggested that Emma learned about Joseph's marriage to Fanny Alger when the girl became pregnant. According to Wilhelm Wyl, who interviewed Chauncey Webb:

[Joseph Smith] was sealed there [i.e., Kirtland] secretly to Fanny Alger. Emma was furious, and drove the girl, who was unable to conceal the consequences of her celestial relation with the prophet, out of her house.

Brian Hales, "The Joseph Smith-Fanny Alger Relationship: Plural Marriage or Adultery?" Joseph Smith's Polygamy. For the Webb quote, see Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, pp. 34-35 (quoting Wyl, Mormon Portraits: or the Truth About the Mormon Leaders, 1830-1886, p. 57 (Tribune Press 1886) (emphasis added).

Webb was an eyewitness to Fanny's condition, since she moved into his home immediately after being kicked out by Emma; therefore, his euphemistic reference to Fanny's pregnancy is very interesting (although he was either mistaken or Fanny lost the baby, because there is no record of Fanny having a child at that time). Although Compton describes Chauncey Webb as an "unsympathetic voice" (presumably because Webb was later excommunicated from the LDS Church, as well as his being the father of Ann Eliza Webb Young, a famous critic of Mormonism and polygamy), his recollections of the Kirtland period should not be simply dismissed. Webb was among the Church's earliest converts in New York, and he lived in Kirtland during the relevant time while serving as Joseph Smith's grammar teacher. Moreover, Chauncey himself became an ardent polygamist (6 wives and 30 children). Yes, he was excommunicated in 1875, but only because he stood up for his daughter, Ann Eliza Webb Young, in her battle against ex-husband Brigham Young. Otherwise, Chauncey remained faithful to Mormonism until his death in 1903.

Another excellent source for details of Joseph's "marriage" to Fanny is Mosiah Hancock's "Autobiography," particularly, the "Addition" to the Autobiography written in 1896 and currently in the possession of the LDS Church. There is a transcription (by Don Bradley) of the "Addition" on Brian Hales's website.

Mosiah was the son of Levi Hancock and Clarissa Reed; he was also a first cousin of Fanny Alger. It was Mosiah's father, Levi Hancock, a close friend of Joseph Smith in Kirtland, who performed the "marriage" ceremony between Joseph and Fanny. Mosiah was not born until 1834, so obviously he did not have first-hand knowledge of what transpired, but he says he received the story directly from his father.

Mosiah's "Addition" begins as follows (unless otherwise noted, the spelling and grammar are as in the original):

As early as the Spring of 1832 Bro Joseph said "Brother Levi, The Lord has revealed to me that it is his will that righteous men shall take Righteous women even a plurality of Wives that a Righteous race may be sent forth Uppon [sic] the Earth preparatory to the ushering in of the Millennial Reign of our Redeemer—For the Lord has such a high respect for the nobles of his kingdom that he is not willing for them to come through the Loins of a careles [sic] People—Therefore; it behoves [sic] those who embrace that Principle to pay strict attention to even the least requirement of our Heavenly Father."

(See Don Bradley's transcription of Mosiah Hancock's "Addition" at; (see also Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 31).

This was likely the earliest justification for LDS polygamy—to "usher" in "a Righteous race … preparatory to the [earthly reign of Jesus]." Why this would require sexual relations is unknown.

Mosiah Hancock also provides important details of the "proposal" to Fanny and the resulting "marriage" ceremony:

When my Father had started on his first mission to preach this Gospel He felt that perhaps had had done wrong in not telling the Prophet that he had made arrangements to marry Temperance Jane Miller of New Lyme—When Father returned from his mission he spoke to the Prophet concerning the matter[.] The Prophet said—"Never mind Brother Levi about that for the Lord has one prepared for you that will be a Blessing to you forever!" At that time Clarissa Reed was working at the Prophet's[.] She told the Prophet She loved Levi Hancock[.] The Prophet had the highest respect for her feelings[.] She thought that perhaps she might be one of the Prophet's wives as herself and Sister Emma were on the best of terms[.] My Father and Mother understanding each other were inspired by the spirit of the Lord to respect His word through the Prophet—Therefore Brother Joseph said "Brother Levi I want to make a bargain with you—If you will get Fanny Alger for me for a wife you may have Clarissa Reed. I love Fanny[.]" "I will" Said Father—"Go brother Levi and the Lord will prosper you" Said Joseph—Father goes to the Father Samuel Alger—his Father's Brother in Law and [said] "Samuel the Prophet Joseph loves your Daughter Fanny and wishes her for a wife what say you[?]"—Uncle Sam Says—"Go and talk to the old woman about it twi'll be as She says[.]" Father goes to his Sister and said "Clarissy, Brother Joseph the Prophet of the most high God loves Fanny and wishes her for a wife what say you[?]" Said She "go and talk to Fanny it will be all right with me[.]" Father goes to Fanny and said "Fanny Brother Joseph the Prophet loves you and wishes you for a wife will you be his wife?" "I will Levi" Said She. Father takes Fanny to Joseph and said "Brother Joseph I have been successful in my mission" -- Father gave her to Joseph repeating the Ceremony as Joseph repeated to him[.]

Don Bradley's transcription of Mosiah Hancock's "Addition" at (emphasis added); Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 32).

It is interesting that Clarissa Reed, who, like Fanny, worked in the Smith household, knew about the new polygamy doctrine and desired to become a plural wife to Joseph Smith. Clarissa instead married Levi Hancock on March 29, 1833, which was a key part of Joseph's "bargain" with Levi -- i.e., Levi's marriage to Clarissa in exchange for Levi's arranging the "marriage" between Joseph and Fanny. After Levi succeeded in this "mission," he was chosen to perform the ceremony as Joseph dictated the words to be said. The essay also fails to mention Levi Hancock was "rewarded" by Joseph for setting this up this marriage with a marriage to Clarissa Reed. One scholar has noted that "Nauvoo plural marriages would show a similar pattern of "rewards" for those who helped solemnize Smith's marriages".

Another interesting thing from this account is that, from Joseph's perspective, this was a "marriage" based on love (as opposed to being forced by an angel). It even sounds like Joseph's primary motivation in pursuing Fanny was NOT to "usher" in "a Righteous race" in preparation for the Second Coming, but, rather, because he was 'head over heels' crazy-in-love with this young teenager living in his home. It sure doesn't sound like Joseph was being forced by anyone (heavenly or mortal) to "marry" Fanny. Bottom line: Joseph loved Fanny and wanted her as his "wife." Other reasons(i.e., God's plan, raising up a "Righteous race," etc.) seems more like a clever 'cover story' to get what he was really after: the lovely Fanny.





Let me make a final point about Joseph and Fanny. Can we even call whatever relationship that was solemnized by Levi Hancock, a "marriage"? Chauncey Webb (quoted above) described it as a "sealing," but it couldn't have been because the requisite "sealing" power would not be restored through Joseph Smith until April 1836 in the Kirtland Temple—three years after the "sealing." Nor was it a legal, civil marriage since Joseph already was legally married to Emma, and Ohio law (as conceded in the Essay) only recognized monogamous marriage. Furthermore, as far as we know, the officiator, Levi Hancock, had NO legal authority to marry anyone under Ohio law. So what exactly occurred between Joseph and Fanny? Many think it was nothing more than a 'dressed up' form of adultery, because it could not be recognized by Ohio law as a real "marriage" and there was no such thing as "celestial marriage/sealing" in 1833. The Essay describes it as a "marriage," of course, but without any explanation or reasoning in support.

In any event, we do know a lot about Joseph's 'connection' (whether "marriage" or "adultery") with Fanny Alger—much more than the Essay is willing to admit.


Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p.p. 25 & 29

Brian Hales' website Joseph Smith's Polygamy

Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness.

Richard Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, p. 324

Richard N. and Joan K. Ostling, Mormon America: The Power and the Promise, 60 (HarperCollins, 2007).

Donald Q. Cannon and Lyndon W. Cook, eds., Far West Record: Minutes of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1830-1844 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1983), 167. Citation taken from "Sexual Allegations against Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Polygamy in Nauvoo" by Grant H. Palmer (Link is here.; reconfirmed 11.10.2014).


1) 3rd paragraph under 'Plural Marriage in Nauvoo' excerpt:

By June 1844, when Joseph died, approximately 29 men and 50 women had entered into plural marriage, in addition to Joseph and his wives.

The math here obviously doesn't work—if each of the 29 men, in order to be a polygamist, had to have at least two wives, wouldn't there need to be at least 58 (instead of just 50) women involved? Perhaps some polyandry was going on that skewed the numbers (but we'll never know because the Essay doesn't discuss this obvious problem).


2) 4th paragraph under 'Plural Marriage in Nauvoo' excerpt:

A few men unscrupulously used these rumors to seduce women to join them in an unauthorized practice sometimes referred to as "spiritual wifery." When this was discovered, the men were cut off from the Church.

The author brings up John C. Bennett's so-called "spiritual wifery," which is the practice of plural marriage without Joseph's prior permission (in all other ways, however, Bennett's "spiritual wifery" appears to have been the same as Joseph's "plurality of wives"). In endnote 21 of the essay, the author describes Bennett's "spiritual wifery" as "sexual relations … outside of legalized marital relationships, on condition that the relations remained secret." (Essay, p 7 fn. 21) (emphasis added)). As noted in the essay, like Bennett's "spiritual wifery" system, (i) Joseph's plural marriages were NOT legal in the United States (Essay p 1), and (ii) those who Joseph authorized to practice plural marriage had to keep it secret (Essay p 1). Frankly, I'm at a loss to understand how the marriage 'systems' practiced by Bennett and Joseph were really that different.


3) 4th paragraph under 'Plural Marriage in Nauvoo' excerpt:

The rumors prompted members and leaders to issue carefully worded denials that denounced spiritual wifery and polygamy but were silent about what Joseph Smith and others saw as divinely mandated "celestial" plural marriage. The statements emphasized that the Church practiced no marital law other than monogamy while implicitly leaving open the possibility that individuals, under direction of God's living prophet, might do so.

This is full of mind boggling legalspeak. What about this quote from Joseph:

What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one. I am the same man, and as innocent as I was fourteen years ago; and I can prove them all perjurers.

History of the Church, Vol 6, p 411.

The essay actually tries to justify the bizarre way that Joseph, and other leaders, stretched and changed definitions for words. They practiced no marital law other than monogamy? Here is what footnote 22 says: "In the denials, 'polygamy' was understood to mean the marriage of one man to more than one woman but without Church sanction." So we have this made up definition for the word polygamy so they can pretend they are being honest. It continues "while implicitly leaving open the possibility that _________". You can insert whatever you want to imagine at this point in the sentence. So they said one thing and really meant something entirely different. Nowhere in the historical record does it say that this redefining of meaning was made by those involved, it is simply a modern-day obfuscation to try and justify the behaviors of the early leaders. It is clear, however, that the early leaders carefully crafted denials in order to appear to be honest, when in fact we know they weren't. The argument that they were being completely forthright, because they were using their own specially made up phrase "celestial" plural marriage, is troublesome. It justifies dishonest, illegal behavior under the prophet's direction and yet nowhere in this essay do they say anything about this being unacceptable or dishonest.

When the essay states that the Church leaders issued "carefully worded denials" this is simply lying. Why can't the essay simply call it what it was—lying? This "Lying for the Lord" concept goes against the very heart of Christian practices and against the 13th Article of Faith as well as the ninth commandment, yet the essay does not treat it as a sin. Whether these statements are called lies or "carefully worded denials", it seems clear that they were—and are—primarily meant to deceive.


1) 1st paragraph under 'Joseph Smith and Plural Marriage':

During the era in which plural marriage was practiced, Latter-day Saints distinguished between sealings for time and eternity and sealings for eternity only. Sealings for time and eternity included commitments and relationships during this life, generally including the possibility of sexual relations. Eternity-only sealings indicated relationships in the next life alone.

This section of the Essay begins by framing the argument in a way that will allow the author (later in the Essay) to downplay that aspect of plural marriage which really bothers most LDS members: a married man's sexual relations with a married woman other than their first (and only legal) spouse. This form of polygamy is often referred to as "polyandry".

In a later part of this section, the author will focus on Joseph's polyandry, but, by making a fine distinction early on, the author hopes to avoid or at least mitigate the natural revulsion of a typical reader when faced with Joseph's involvement in this extremely unsavory practice.

As will be seen, the author's application of this distinction to Joseph's polyandry is intended to try and place these plural marriages in the more positive-sounding "eternity only" category, which, by the Essay's definition, would preclude sexual relations in this life.


2) 2nd paragraph under 'Joseph Smith and Plural Marriage' excerpt:

The exact number of women to whom he was sealed in his lifetime is unknown because the evidence is fragmentary.

Although it is buried in the footnotes, footnote 24 states:

Careful estimates put the number between 30 and 40. See Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy, 2:272–73.

This is a fair estimate. But there isn't any reason that this important fact should not have been simply put in the essay above instead of relegated to a footnote.


Helen Kimball


3) 3rd paragraph under 'Joseph Smith and Plural Marriage' excerpt:

The youngest was Helen Mar Kimball, daughter of Joseph's close friends Heber C. and Vilate Murray Kimball, who was sealed to Joseph several months before her 15th birthday.

As probably every response to the Essay has already pointed out, the author does not want to admit that Helen was just 14 years old when she married the 37-year old Joseph Smith. Instead, the author inexplicably refers to Helen's marriage as occurring "several months before her 15th birthday." Even the author of the essay can't bring himself to say that Joseph married a 14 year-old girl. One reader quipped that Helen was 243 months before her 34th birthday.

The story of Helen Kimball

The essay leaves out any of the details surrounding how this took place. Joseph told Heber he needed to surrender his wife to Joseph in marriage. Then, after 3 days of agonizing over this, Heber led his wife to Joseph only to be told by Joseph that it was just some sort of Abrahamic test. Then Joseph asked for Heber's only daughter Helen to take as a plural wife.

Soon after this Helen was given to Joseph as a plural wife. Helen records:

My father had but one Ewe Lamb, but willingly laid her upon the alter: how cruel this seamed to the mother whose heartstrings were already stretched untill they were ready to snap asunder, for he [Heber] had taken Sarah Noon to wife & she thought she had made sufficient sacrafise, but the Lord required more. I will pass over the temptations which I had during the twenty four hours after my father introduced to me this principle & asked me if I would be sealed to Joseph, who came next morning & with my parents I heard him teach & explain the principle of [p. 1] Celestial marrage-after which he said to me, "If you will take this step, it will ensure your eternal salvation and exaltation & that of your father's household & all of your kindred.

This promise was so great that I will-ingly gave myself to purchase so glorious a reward. None but God & his angels could see my mother's bleeding heart—when Joseph asked her if she was willing, she replied "If Helen is willing I have nothing more to say." She had witnessed the sufferings of others, who were older & who better understood the step they were taking, & to see her child, who had scarcely seen her fifteenth summer, following in the same thorny path, in her mind she saw the misery which was as sure to come as the sun was to rise and set; but it was all hidden from me.

Jeni Broberg Holzapfel and Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, eds., A Woman's View: Helen Mar Whitney's Reminiscences of Early Church History (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1997), 481–487

It is disturbing to hear that 14 year-old Helen was coerced by Joseph and her own father to marry a 37 year-old man who already had some 25 or so other wives. Joseph promised her entire family 'eternal salvation' if she would do so. Does that make any sense? Why would her and her family's eternal salvation depend upon her being one of Smith's 40 wives? Couldn't she be saved and exalted by marrying a worthy man her own age and living a good life? And how does her actions save her family as we are each responsible for our own salvation?


Essay states:

Marriage at such an age, inappropriate by today's standards, was legal in that era, and some women married in their mid-teens.

The author first tries to convince us that this marriage was normal because in 1843 it was "legal" to marry at the age of fourteen, even if considered "inappropriate by today's standards." This is a simple case of a straw-man, since it was not a legal marriage because polygamous marriages were illegal in the United States as already mentioned above and in the Church's previous essay on polygamy.



Essay states:

Helen Mar Kimball spoke of her sealing to Joseph as being "for eternity alone," suggesting that the relationship did not involve sexual relations.

The essay brings this up because the thought of a 37 year-old man having sex with a 14 year-old girl is uncomfortable. There is real disagreement about whether this marriage included sexual relations. Even if we assume this is true, why then did he marry her at age 14? Why not let her have a chance to grow up and experience life before committing her to a polygamous marriage? If Joseph felt she was too young to sleep with, why alter her life so drastically by marrying her at this age and denying her the opportunity to date boys of her own age?

But there is evidence to suggest Joseph may have had sexual relations with Helen. At first, Helen thought her marriage to Joseph Smith was only dynastic. But to her surprise, it was more. Helen confided to a close friend in Nauvoo:

I would never have been sealed to Joseph had I known it was anything more than ceremony. I was young, and they deceived me, by saying the salvation of our whole family depended on it.

Mormon Polygamy: A History by LDS member Richard S. Van Wagoner, p. 53.


Further evidence of a sexual relationship is provided in this excerpt adapted from Rollo Tomasi's response to this essay:

Just as the author is extremely reluctant to admit that Helen was—gasp!—just 14 years at the time of her marriage to Joseph, the author is even more terrified to admit that 14-year old Helen had—another, bigger gasp! -- sex with the 37-year old Joseph Smith. What is the author to do? Well, grasp at anything to "suggest that the relationship did not involve sexual relations." (See Essay p. 3) (emphasis added)). Here is the author's "evidence" of such a non-sexual marriage:

Helen Mar Kimball spoke of her sealing to Joseph as being "for eternity alone" …. (See Essay p. 3) (emphasis added)).

You'll notice that the phrase "for eternity alone" is in quotation marks, because, according to endnote 27 of the Essay, these words came from Helen's Autobiography. If you go to that source (which is really an autobiographical letter to her children dated March 30, 1881), you'll read Helen's full and vivid recounting of how she came to be Joseph's plural wife:

Years passed away and we were living in the City of Nauvoo. Just previous to my father's starting upon his last mission but one, to the Eastern States [i.e., early summer of 1843], he taught me the principle of Celestial marriage, & having a great desire to be connected with the Prophet, Joseph, he offered me to him; this I afterwards learned from the Prophet's own mouth. My father had but one Ewe Lamb, but willingly laid her upon the alter: how cruel this seamed to the mother whose heartstrings were already stretched untill they were ready to snap asunder, for he had taken Sarah Noon to wife & she thought she had made sufficient sacrafise, but the Lord required more. I will pass over the temptations which I had during the twenty four hours after my father introduced to me this principle & asked me if I would be sealed to Joseph, who came next morning & with my parents I heard him teach & explain the principle of Celestial marrage -- after which he said to me, "If you will take this step, it will ensure your eternal salvation and exaltation & that of your father's household & all of your kindred."

This promise was so great that I willingly gave myself to purchase so glorious a reward. None but God & his angels could see my mother's bleeding heart — when Joseph asked her if she was willing, she replied "If Helen is willing I have nothing more to say." She had witnessed the sufferings of others, who were older & who better understood the step they were taking, & to see her child, who had scarcely seen her fifteenth summer, following in the same thorny path, in her mind she saw the misery which was as sure to come as the sun was to rise and set; but it was all hidden from me. (See Helen Mar Whitney, Autobiography, pp. 1-2 (March 30, 1881) (spelling and grammar as in original; bold and underline added for emphasis)).

Does this sound like a non-sexual marriage? If this were just some sealing "for eternity only," would Helen have described herself as her father's "one Ewe Lamb" that he "willingly laid … upon the alter"? But what really establishes, for me, that Helen's plural marriage to Joseph was (or intended to be) typical (i.e., sexual), are Helen's repeated references to her mother's great suffering. For example, Helen speaks of her mother's "heartstrings … ready to snap asunder, for he [i.e., Heber] had taken Sarah Noon to wife & she thought she had made sufficient sacrafise, but the Lord required more." FYI, Sarah Noon was Heber's first plural wife, and from whom Heber's first plural child was born just a few months before. By equating Helen's marriage to Joseph with the plural marriage of Heber and Sarah Noon, Helen's mother clearly understood that her daughter's marriage would include sexual relations.

Helen continues to write of her "mother's bleeding heart," and that her mother "had witnessed the sufferings of others, who were older & who better understood the step they were taking." Can anyone read from this that the mother's "bleeding heart" was over an "eternity only" sealing? And can anyone honestly dispute that Helen's reference to other plural wives "who were older & who better understood the step they were taking" did not mean a "time and eternity" marriage involving sexual relations? Moreover, according to Helen, her mother's despair was also due to Helen "following in the same thorny path" as these other plural wives (including Sarah Noon, who was obviously having sexual relations with Heber).

We must remember that Helen wrote this 1881 account to her children with the benefit of hindsight and actual experience. She certainly came to learn exactly what LDS plural marriage entailed—sexual relations. Which is why the saddest part of her account is revealed in the very last phrase: "but it was all hidden from me."

That the true nature of Helen's plural marriage to Joseph had been, indeed, "all hidden from [her]," is confirmed by the first two stanzas of a poem Helen wrote at the end of the 1881 letter to her children:

I thought through this life my time will be my own
The step I now am taking's for eternity alone
No one need be the wiser, through time I shall be free,
And as the past hath been the future still will be.
To my guileless heart all free from worldly care
And full of blissful hopes and youthful visions rare
The world seamed bright the thret'ning clouds were kept
From sight and all looked fair but pitying angels wept.
They saw my youthful friends grow shy and cold.
And poisonous darts from sland'rous tongues were hurled,
Untutor'd heart in thy gen'rous sacrafise,
Thou dids't not weigh the cost nor know the bitter price;
Thy happy dreams all o'er thou'st doom'd also to be
Bar'd out from social scenes by this thy destiny,
And o'er thy sad'nd mem'ries of sweet departed joys
Thy sicken'd heart will brood and imagine future woes,
And like a fetter'd bird with wild and longing heart,
Thou'lt dayly pine for freedom and murmor at thy lot

But could'st thou see the future & view that glorious crown,
Awaiting you in Heaven you would not weep nor mourn.
Pure and exalted was thy father's aim, he saw
A glory in obeying this high celestial law,
For to thousands who've died without the light
I will bring eternal joy & make thy crown more bright.
I'd been taught to reveire the Prophet of God
And receive every word as the word of the Lord,
But had this not come through my dear father's mouth,
I should ne'r have received it as God's sacred truth.

(See Helen Mar Whitney, Autobiography, p. 2 (March 30, 1881) (spelling and grammar as in original; bold added for emphasis)).

The first two stanzas of the poem reveal that Helen originally "thought" her "sealing" to Joseph was to be "for eternity only" (thanks to her father's concealment), but she later learned that the marriage was for this life as well, which explains Helen's mother's great anguish in allowing her daughter to marry Joseph. Upon discovering the true nature of her plural marriage, Helen felt as "a fetter'd bird … pin[ing] for freedom." She also referenced her friends shunning her and slanderous gossip toward her being "hurled." She writes that her "gen'rous sacrafise" required a "bitter price." Does any of this sound like a relationship reserved "for eternity only"? Of course not -- this "sealing" was a marriage for time and eternity, and for the author of the Essay to suggest the opposite by twisting Helen's words "for eternity only" was an intentional effort to mislead the reader.

Which leads us to the real question: did Helen have sex with Joseph? We'll never know, of course. They were only married 13 months before Joseph was killed, and Helen continued to live with her parents during that time (as did other single plural wives of Joseph, with his polyandrous wives continuing to live with their first husbands), which doesn't answer the question. The fact is we have no conclusive evidence either way, which is why I think the Essay should have at least remained neutral on this issue instead of "suggesting that the relationship did not involve sexual relations".

If a side must be taken on the sexuality issue, then the evidence we do have actually favors a sexual marriage between Helen and Joseph. As shown above, the "for eternity only" phrase was taken entirely out of context and twisted to mean the complete opposite of Helen's intent. Putting that phrase back in context, and then reading the poem as a whole, strongly suggests Helen's marriage was for time and eternity. In addition, Helen's 1881 "Autobiography" (quoted at length above), particularly those parts relating her mother's feelings about the marriage to Joseph, can only be read as her mother knowing that her 14-year old girl was entering a sexual marriage.

And, finally, we have Helen's own words from 1884, contained in a 72-page pamphlet she wrote to defend Joseph Smith and LDS polygamy, which states, in relevant part:

Polygamy, at different periods, has been practiced as a correcter of evils and a promoter of purity; because of the wickedness and corruption into which the world has sunk; and this is the present condition of all civilized nations. Every sign goes to show that we are nearing the end -- the winding up scene which all the ancient prophets have foretold, as well as the Prophet Joseph Smith. It was revealed to the latter that there were thousands of spirits, yet unborn, who were anxiously waiting for the privilege of coming down to take tabernacles of flesh, that their glory might be complete. This, Lucifer and his armies, who were cast out of heaven down upon this planet, have been doing their utmost to prevent. Their greatest punishment is in not having bodies; and their mission is to throw dust in the eyes of the children of men, that they may not see the truths of heaven. It is through Lucifer's wicked schemes that so many thousands of tabernacles have been and are being destroyed, and thereby those choice spirits have been hindered from coming into this state of existence, which event is of the greatest importance to them. But the work of the Almighty is rushing towards its completion, which makes this plural wife system an actual necessity. It was our Father in heaven who commanded that it should be established, and we have nothing to fear for what we have done. It is a controversy between God and Satan. The principle was established by the Prophet Joseph Smith, and all who have entered into it in righteousness, have done so for the purpose of raising a righteous seed; and the object is that we may be restored back to that Eden from whence we fell. (See Helen Mar Whitney, Why We Practice Plural Marriage, pp. 7-8 (Juvenile Instructor 1884) (spelling and grammar as in original; bold and underline added for emphasis)).

While the true nature of her plural marriage to Joseph was "all hidden from [her]" when her father begged and bribed her to go through with it, Helen learned the truth, and, as is clear from her passage above, polygamy was all about "raising a righteous seed" and allowing "thousands of spirits, yet unborn, who were anxiously waiting for the privilege of coming down to take tabernacles of flesh[.]" It goes without saying (but I will anyway) that the purposes identified by Helen require sexual intercourse within marriage. Moreover, by proclaiming to the world that "all" who have entered plural marriage did so to "rais[e] a righteous seed," Helen was necessarily including her own plural marriage to Joseph Smith.

What of the "evidence" favoring a non-sexual marriage between Helen and Joseph? Frankly, I have not seen any evidence to suggest a non-sexual marriage. As noted above, the "for eternity only" phrase from Helen's poem does not in any way suggest a non-sexual marriage. However, historian Brian Hales and others have pointed to another theory that they believe suggests the marriage between Joseph and Helen was non-sexual. This "evidence" comes from the "Temple Lot Case" of 1893, wherein the LDS Church called as witnesses several surviving plural widows of Joseph Smith, to testify that their marriages with Joseph were for this life (as well as for eternity) and had been consummated. Notably for Hales, the Church did not ask Helen Mar Kimball Whitney to join with these plural widows and testify that her marriage to Joseph Smith was also consummated. From this, Hales concludes that Helen and Joseph did not consummate their marriage.

I think Hales has read too much into this episode. For me, the far more likely reason the Brethren chose not to call Helen to testify was because they did not want to admit publicly that Joseph Smith, at the time a 37-year old man with already 25 or so plural wives, married and had sex with a 14-year old girl—such an admission would have been more scandalous during Victorian-era 1893 than even today. Thus, that Helen was not asked to testify in the "Temple Lot Case" is no "evidence" of her sexless plural marriage; instead, I submit that the decision not to call Helen actually favors a sexual union, which the Brethren knew about but, for good reason, did not want to disclose publicly.

Let me add a final note concerning Joseph taking very young brides. It is likely that Helen Mar Kimball was not the only 14-year old to marry Joseph. Sometime during 1843 (the exact date is unknown) Joseph married Nancy Maria Winchester, who was born on August 10, 1828 (just 12 days before the birth of Helen Mar). Depending on the actual date of the marriage in 1843, Nancy was either 14- or 15-years old at the time (and Joseph was 37). Little is known about Nancy and her marriage to Joseph; for more details, See Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, pp. 604-08. Apart from these two 14-year olds, Joseph took at least another 8 teenagers as plural wives.


Adapted from Rollo Tomasi's response to this essay


Essay states:

After Joseph's death, Helen remarried and became an articulate defender of him and of plural marriage.

Like many polygamous wives, Helen hated the very idea of polygamy when first introduced to it and for many years afterward as she said in many of her writings. The negative writings by Helen seem to greatly outweigh the positive writings. This is similar to Emma Smith, who at times accepted polygamy, but most of the time was bitterly opposed to the practice. As time went on Helen may have accepted it and even felt special by being known as one of the wives of the most revered prophet. Perhaps she decided to make the best of it as she had no choice at that point. No one but Helen herself can say for sure if she really enjoyed being a polygamous wife of Joseph Smith. However, one thing we can say with conviction is that a 14 year-old girl should never have been put in that position in the first place by Joseph Smith and by her own parents.


Joseph married a total of seven girls under the age of 18.

To read more details about Helen Kimball and her marriage to Joseph Smith see: Joseph married girls as young as 14 years old



joseph smith marrying other men's wives


4) 4th paragraph under 'Joseph Smith and Plural Marriage' excerpt:

Following his marriage to Louisa Beaman and before he married other single women, Joseph Smith was sealed to a number of women who were already married.

This startling disclosure is a welcomed validation to the critics who have been saying this for years. I, as compiler of this response, had a heated debate with my bishop over whether Joseph married other men's wives. My bishop insisted Joseph did not marry other men's wives despite the evidence I presented. The critics have now been validated on this issue.

Most estimates (by LDS historians) have Joseph married to at least 11 women who already had living husbands.


Essay states:

Neither these women nor Joseph explained much about these sealings, though several women said they were for eternity alone. Other women left no records, making it unknown whether their sealings were for time and eternity or were for eternity alone.

Again the implication is that we have no records. The essay says several women said that they were for eternity alone. Other women left no records. What about the rest of the stories/records/experiences that are recorded that we do have?

This is the author's attempt to immediately downplay the marriages to other men to imply that they were probably not sexual in nature. This is deceptive. By referring only to those polyandrous wives who said their sealings "were for eternity alone[,]" and that other polyandrous wives "left no records" for us to know either way, the author implies that (i) no polyandrous wife has ever said her sealing to Joseph was for "time and eternity," and (ii) we have no records that can answer whether a polyandrous sealing was "for eternity alone" or "for time and eternity."

The author is wrong on both counts, which are easily disproven by Joseph's polyandrous wife Patty Bartlett Sessions, who wrote in her journal in June 1860:

I was sealed to Joseph Smith by Willard Richards Mar 9, 1842, in Newel K. Whitney's chamber, Nauvoo, for time and all eternity … Sylvia my daughter was present when I was sealed to Joseph Smith.

See Claire A.W. Noall, Intimate Disciple, Portrait of Willard Richards, p. 611 (U. of U. Press 1957) (emphasis added)

There is evidence to show that Joseph also had sex with the women he married who already had husbands. Even Brian C. Hales, (much of this Essay is based on his research), has acknowledged that there is evidence that Joseph had sexual relations with three of the women that already had husbands - Sylvia Sessions, Mary Heron, and Sarah Ann Whitney. See LDS Apologists: Joseph may have had sex with his wives


5) 5th paragraph under 'Joseph Smith and Plural Marriage' excerpt:

Joseph Smith's sealings to women already married may have been an early version of linking one family to another.

This makes little sense. Why would worthy priesthood holders need to have their wives sealed to Joseph? The husbands of the wives Joseph married were upstanding Church members. Some were serving missions at the time Joseph married their wives. What possible reason would there be to "link" the families as we are all responsible for our own salvation anyway?

The author first tries to deflect away from the "sex" part of marriage by proffering the "dynastic" theory that Joseph's polyandrous marriages were simply "an early version of linking one family to another." (Id.). This may have been true with some of his polyandrous marriages, but certainly not with others.

Let's take, for example, Zina Diantha Huntington, Joseph's second (and possibly first) polyandrous wife. When Zina was 19-years old and still single, Joseph asked her to become his plural wife at least three times, but each time Zina demurred. (See Martha Sonntag Bradley & Mary Brown Firmage Woodward, Four Zinas: A Story of Mothers and Daughters on the Mormon Frontier, p. 108 (Signature Books 2000); (see also Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 79). Zina, instead, married faithful LDS member Henry Bailey Jacobs on March 7, 1841. (See id., p. 80). Joseph Smith was to perform the ceremony, but he didn't show up, so John C. Bennett, then mayor of Nauvoo, officiated. (Id.). Under the laws of Illinois, this constituted a legal and lawful civil marriage (note: there is no evidence that Zina and Henry were ever granted a legal divorce). (See Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 658 -- citing Record of Marriages in Hancock Co., Ill., Book A, p. 40).

This should have been the end of the "love" story between Zina and Joseph; however, Joseph refused to give up. Not too long after their wedding, Zina and Henry Jacobs saw Joseph and asked him why he didn't show at their wedding. Joseph responded that "it had been made known to him that she was to be his Celestial Wife and he could not give to another one who had been given to him." (See Brian Hales, "Bio of Zina Diantha Huntington,", citing Oa Jacobs Cannon, History of Henry Bailey Jacobs) (emphasis added)). Consequently, according to Compton:

Once again Zina was plunged into a quandary. Smith told them that God had commanded him to marry her. However, he apparently also told them they could continue to live together as husband and wife. According to family tradition, Henry accepted this, but Zina continued to struggle.

(Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 80 (emphasis added).

It was only after Zina's brother, Dimick Huntington, informed her that an angel with a drawn sword had stood over Joseph and threatened to take his life if he failed to establish polygamy that Zina finally acquiesced to marry Joseph. On October 27, 1841, Zina (while 6 months or so pregnant with her first child) was married to Joseph, officiated by her brother, Dimick. (ibid, p. 81).

During the remainder of Joseph's life, Henry Jacobs was often away on missions, leaving Zina alone in Nauvoo. Historian Compton opines that "judging from Smith's other marriages, sexuality was probably included [in Joseph's marriage to Zina]." (See id., p. 82) (emphasis added)). If there were any "dynastic" point to this polyandrous marriage (i.e., linking the Huntington family to Joseph Smith in the hereafter), as claimed in the Essay, it was only an afterthought—Joseph wanted to marry Zina before she married Henry Jacobs, and when that option disappeared, he took her via polyandry.


6) 5th paragraph under 'Joseph Smith and Plural Marriage' excerpt:

In Nauvoo, most if not all of the first husbands seem to have continued living in the same household with their wives during Joseph's lifetime, and complaints about these sealings with Joseph Smith are virtually absent from the documentary record.

Are we supposed to believe these men were happy their wives were sleeping with Joseph Smith? If they complained, they could have found themselves excommunicated by the Church and lost all contact with their wives and children.

The author sounds surprised that Joseph's polyandrous wives would continue to live with their legal husbands instead of moving in with Joseph and Emma. The author has completely missed the obvious advantage for Joseph with this type of arrangement—it provided Joseph with the perfect 'cover story' to be with his polyandrous wives.

For example, Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner, another of Joseph's polyandrous wives, wrote this in a letter dated November 21, 1880, to Emmeline B. Wells:

I could tell you why I stayed with Mr. Lightner. Things the leaders of the Church does not know anything about. I did just as Joseph told me to do, as he knew what troubles I would have to contend with.

"Bio of Mary Elizabeth Rollins," citing letter from Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner to Emmeline B. Wells. Brian Hales' "Joseph Smith's Polygamy" (emphasis added)

Mary's description of her polyandrous marriage in that letter gave Joseph Smith two advantages: (i) an easier way to keep his polygamy secret; and (ii) the perfect cover story if a polyandrous wife were to become pregnant by Joseph—in such a case, she could simply claim that her first husband was the father (no DNA testing back in those days to prove her wrong).

In fact, Mary Lightner seemed to bring up the latter scenario when she told the BYU graduating class of 1905:

I know he [i.e., Joseph Smith] had six wives and I have known some of them from childhood up. I knew he had three children. They told me. I think two are living today but they are not known as his children as they go by other names.

Mary Elizabeth Lightner, "Address at Brigham Young University, April 14, 1905," transcript in BYU Archives. (emphasis added)

The Essay contends that because most (if not all) of Joseph's polyandrous wives continued to live with their first husbands, this is evidence that Joseph's polyandry was less likely to be sexual than the "normal marriage relationships" he had with his single plural wives. (See Essay ¶ 4). There is no evidence to support this position. Based on the information we do have, Joseph was just as likely (if not more so) to have had sex with his polyandrous wives because they continued to live with their first husbands.

An excellent illustration of this strategy is the case of Sarah Ann Whitney, who, a few months after marrying Joseph Smith, became his polyandrous wife when she civilly married a "pretend" husband, Joseph C. Kingsbury, who wrote of his marriage to Sarah:

On the 29th of April 1843 I according to President Joseph Smith['s] [counsel] and others agreed to Stand by Sarah Ann Whitney as Supposed to be her husband & had a pretended marriage for the purpose of Bringing about the purposes of God in these last days as spoken by the mouth of the Prophets ….

Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, pp. 351-52. (emphasis added)

Another possible 'pretend' marriage was Joseph's polyandrous marriage to Elvira Cowles Holmes. Elvira, while single, lived for a time in Joseph's home, and while there she was introduced to Jonathon Holmes, a close friend of Joseph's. Elvira and Jonathon were civilly married on December 1, 1842, by Joseph Smith. Just a few months later, on June 1, 1843, Joseph took Elvira as his polyandrous wife. There is evidence that this sealing involved sexual relations, as Elvira's daughter, Phebe Louisa Holmes Welling, recalled many years after:

I heard my mother testify that she was indeed the Prophet's plural wife in life and lived with him as such during his lifetime.

"Bio of Elvira Cowles," Brian Hales' "Joseph Smith's Polygamy". (emphasis added) (see also Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 548.

In addition to polyandrous wives continuing to live with their first husbands, the author of the Essay also claims that "complaints about these sealings with Joseph Smith are virtually absent from the documentary record." This is untrue. Vivid accounts of hurt feelings and anger caused by Joseph's polyandrous marriages (as well as unsuccessful polyandrous proposals) abound.

First up is Henry Bailey Jacobs. Who can deny that Henry wasn't hurt when Joseph took Henry's pregnant wife, Zina, as a polyandrous wife (after Joseph ardently pursued Zina while she was still single)? Moreover, who can sincerely deny that Henry's anguish wasn't compounded after Joseph's death, when, on February 2, 1846, Zina (then 7-months pregnant with Henry's second child) became the polyandrous wife of Brigham Young for "time"? Not long thereafter, while Henry and Zina (still legally married and living together, with their two sons) were camped at Mt. Pisgah, Iowa (on their way to Winter Quarters after being driven from Nauvoo), Brigham unexpectedly called Henry to serve a mission to England (Henry was made to leave immediately). Brigham reportedly informed Henry that Zina was no longer his wife. (Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, pp. 86-89). William Hall wrote that Brigham said something like this to Henry:

Brother Jacobs, the woman you claim for a wife does not belong to you. She is the spiritual wife of brother Joseph, sealed up to him. I am his proxy, and she, in this behalf, with her children are my property. You can go where you please and get another, but be sure to get one of your own kindred spirit.

"Bio of Zina D. Huntington," "Joseph Smith's Polygamy", quoting William Hall, The Abominations of Mormonism Exposed, pp. 43-44 (1852) (emphasis added)

Whether or not this is exactly what Brigham said to Henry, it is very consistent with a later discourse by Brigham:

If a woman can find a man holding the keys of the priesthood with higher power and authority than her husband, and he is disposed to take her, he can do so, otherwise she has got to remain where she is.

George D. Watts, Conference Reports, Oct. 8, 1861. (emphasis added)

This appears to be exactly what happened with Brigham and Zina; while Henry was away on his mission to England, Brigham took Zina into his home at Winter Quarters. From that time onward Zina would live openly as Brigham's wife. This clearly was sexual polyandry, because Zina later bore Brigham two children. (Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 90)

And what of poor Henry? Well, he eventually married plural wives, but he forever 'pined for' his sweetheart Zina. Here's an excerpt of a letter Henry wrote to Zina in 1852:

O how happy I should be if I only could see you and my little Children bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh[.] I mean all I would like to see the litle babe; I Zina wish you to prospere. I wish you [k]new what I have to [bear] my feelings ar indiscribeable[.] I am unhappy ther is [no] peace for poor me[.] my pleasure is you[.]…

O I think of those happy days that ar past[.] when I sleep the sleep of death then I will not forget you and my little lambs[.] I love my affections I love my Children. O Zina can I ever will I ever get you again[?] answer the question please[.] If you are at Liberty to answer the question write me soon as you get this[.] my troubles [here] ar greatere than I can [bear].

Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, pp. 99-100) (unless otherwise noted, spelling and grammar as in original)

Next example: Albert Smith (no relation to Joseph Smith or George A. Smith). Albert was the legal husband of Esther Dutcher; they were civilly married in 1826. Little is known of her polyandrous marriage to Joseph Smith (including the date), but it apparently occurred in Nauvoo. Some excellent information is found in a letter dated June 25, 1888, from Apostle Daniel H. Wells to Apostle Joseph F. Smith, who writes of Albert Smith after the death of Esther in 1856:

He [i.e., Albert Smith was] also much afflicted with the loss of his first wife. It seems that she was sealed to Joseph the Prophet in the days of Nauvoo, though she still remained his wife, and afterwards nearly broke his heart by telling him of it, and expressing her intention of adhering to that relationship. He however got to feeling better over it, and acting for Joseph, had her sealed to him, and to himself for time.

"Bio of Esther Dutcher," Joseph Smith's Polygamy. (emphasis added)

Strong feelings of anger and/or anguish of first husbands also stemmed from Joseph's unsuccessful polyandrous proposals (including those proposals intended only as a "test"). Some examples:


Additionally, not all legal husbands were even aware that Joseph Smith initiated relations with their wives (although most men knew afterwards). This was certainly true for Orson Hyde (on a mission) and Adam Lightner (out of town) and possibly for George Harris, Windsor Lyon, David Sessions and Jonathan Holmes as well.

Also, by focusing on "these [12 to 14] sealings", a large group of people is left out of the picture who did not appreciate Joseph Smith's proposals and who did have complaints about them. One of them, William Law, founded a newspaper with other Nauvoo dissidents in which they wanted to expose polygamy and other misconduct. As the mayor of Nauvoo, Joseph Smith allowed the printing press and the first edition to be destroyed. For this unlawful act, he was arrested and while awaiting judicial proceedings in prison, was murdered by an angry mob. The attempted suppression of complaints about polygamy directly led to Joseph Smith's death.


7) 6th paragraph under 'Joseph Smith and Plural Marriage':

These sealings may also be explained by Joseph's reluctance to enter plural marriage because of the sorrow it would bring to his wife Emma. He may have believed that sealings to married women would comply with the Lord's command without requiring him to have normal marriage relationships. This could explain why, according to Lorenzo Snow, the angel reprimanded Joseph for having "demurred" on plural marriage even after he had entered into the practice. After this rebuke, according to this interpretation, Joseph returned primarily to sealings with single women.

The essay implies that Joseph did this to somehow protect Emma since they may not have included "normal marriage relationships". This is a roundabout way of saying marriages that included sex. However, even one of the contributors of this essay, Brian C. Hales, has acknowledged that there is evidence that Joseph had sexual relations with three of the women who already had husbands: Sylvia Sessions, Mary Heron, and Sarah Ann Whitney. So this argument makes no sense. See LDS Apologists: Joseph may have had sex with his wives.

Why would the angel rebuke Joseph for these marriages? Why would he primarily return to marrying single women? It's suggested the angel wanted Joseph to have marriages that involved sex. That is what the essay is saying—that an angel essentially was commanding Joseph to have sex with his plural wives. What kind of god would command this and torment poor Emma in this manner? Additionally, the essay goes to pains to limit the involvement of Joseph's sexual relations with his polygamous wives, yet here it implies that he was supposed to have sexual relations.

I don't believe Joseph's desire not to 'hurt' Emma's feelings had anything to do with his polyandrous marriages. William McLellin wrote Joseph Smith, III, in 1872 of the immediate fallout from Emma's discovery of the "relationship" between Joseph and Fanny Alger:

Now Joseph I will relate to you some history, and refer you to your own dear Mother for the truth. You will probably remember that I visited your Mother and family in 1847, and held a lengthy conversation with her, retired in the Mansion House in Nauvoo. I did not ask her to tell, but I told her some stories I had heard. And she told me whether I was properly informed. Dr. F.G. Williams practiced with me in Clay Co. Mo. during the latter part of 1838. And he told me that at your birth your father committed an act with a Miss Hill [sic] — a hired girl. Emma saw him, and spoke to him. He desisted, but Mrs. Smith refused to be satisfied. He called in Dr. Williams, O. Cowdery, and S. Rigdon to reconcile Emma. But she told them just as the circumstances took place. He found he was caught. He confessed humbly, and begged forgiveness. Emma and all forgave him. She told me this story was true! Again I told her I heard that one night she missed Joseph and Fanny Alger. She went to the barn and saw him and Fanny in the barn together alone. She looked through a crack and saw the transaction!!! She told me this story too was verily true.

"Bio of Fanny Alger," Brian Hales' Joseph Smith's Polygamy) (spelling and grammar as in original; bold and underline added for emphasis)

Hales notes that it is not clear whether McLellin was referring to Joseph being caught with two separate girls or that he mistakenly identified Fanny as "Ms. Hill." (Ibid. fn. 5). It doesn't matter for my point—before any polyandrous marriage occurred, Joseph had already been caught (at least once) by Emma, for which "[h]e confessed humbly, and begged forgiveness." Emma did forgive him and probably thought it was a one-time mistake not to be repeated. She was sadly wrong.

Not long after settling in Nauvoo, Joseph started doing it again. And the first time in Nauvoo was with a single girl (i.e., Louisa Beaman), with whom he slept on the night of their wedding. (Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, pp. 59-60). It appears to be a repeat of the "Fanny" scandal. Around the same time of Joseph's marriage to Louisa Beaman, he was also 'courting' single Zina Huntington to become yet another plural wife. If Joseph was reluctant to pursue polygamy because he didn't want to "hurt" Emma's feelings, then why did he marry one and pursue another single woman after Emma had forgiven him for Fanny?


8) 7th paragraph under 'Joseph Smith and Plural Marriage' excerpt:

Another possibility is that, in an era when life spans were shorter than they are today, faithful women felt an urgency to be sealed by priesthood authority. Several of these women were married either to non-Mormons or former Mormons, and more than one of the women later expressed unhappiness in their present marriages.

This sounds as if the author is blaming the women for forcing Joseph to marry them polyandrously! First of all, many, if not most, of Joseph's polyandrous wives lived into old age, so the author's "life spans were shorter" excuse doesn't work. Second, it is clear from some of Joseph's Nauvoo polyandrous wives that it was Joseph ardently pursuing them, not the other way around. An example is Zina Huntington Jacobs, who refused Joseph's marriage proposal three times before she married Henry Jacobs, and, thereafter, she agreed to marry Joseph only after being told that "an angel with a drawn sword" was threatening to kill him if they didn't marry.

Didn't the essay just imply these polyandrous marriages were for eternity only (the next life)? Why would married women need to be married to Joseph when they already had husbands? It's not like they were going to be single in the next life…they were married. Why would God disrupt and injure so many lives when He knew that if a woman needed to be sealed to a faithful husband, it could be done by proxy for the deceased? What does this have to do with short life spans for married women? The implication here is that if a woman was married to an apostate/inactive man it was OK for her to marry Joseph or if they were unhappy in their marriages. How many of these husbands were asked if they were OK with this or did they not deserve to be involved in the decision? What about the active worthy husbands like Orson Pratt, whose wife Sarah, Joseph had tried to marry while he was out on a mission? He became so distraught he left a suicide note for his wife? Or Orson Hyde, whose wife Nancy, Joseph married after Joseph sent him on a mission?

Richard Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, p. 466-67

Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 228-253


9) 7th paragraph under 'Joseph Smith and Plural Marriage' excerpt:

Living in a time when divorce was difficult to obtain, these women may have believed a sealing to Joseph Smith would give them blessings they might not otherwise receive in the next life.

At the January 1843 meeting where Orson Pratt was reinstated to the Church and his apostleship restored (as mentioned above, Orson had left the Church for a time after hearing of Joseph's polyandrous proposal to his wife, Sarah, while Orson was away on a mission; Orson eventually sided with Joseph over his wife), Joseph instructed:

I will not advise you to break up you[r] family—unless it were asked of me. [T]hen I would council you to [get] a bill [of divorce] from you[r] wife & marry a virtuous woman & raise a new family[,] but if you do not do it [I] shall never throw it in your teeth.

Gary James Bergera, Conflict in the Quorum, p. 35. (emphasis added)

It sounds like Joseph Smith believed legal divorce was a real option; I don't know where the author of the Essay came up with this. The footnote accompanying this statement does not support it.

Essay states "the women may have believed a sealing to Joseph Smith would give them blessings they might not otherwise receive in the next life". This is speculation but if it is true then the women must have gotten this idea from Joseph Smith himself. If he promised the women that they would receive 'greater blessings' in the next life by marrying him, this would be a hollow promise and evidence of deception on Joseph's part to coerce women to marry him that may not have done so otherwise.

The Essay's explanation is not only pure speculation, it is also based on an incorrect portrayal of the facts. Of the eleven already married women on Compton's list, only one had a former Mormon husband (Presendia Lathrop) while three had non-Mormon husbands (Mary Elizabeth Rollins, Sarah Kingsley and Ruth Vose).

Regardless of these factual inaccuracies, the idea of sealing originated in the context of polygamy, not the other way around. Sealing and polygamy were synonyms to early Mormons. Saying that "faithful women felt an urgency to be sealed" would be akin to saying that these women felt an urgency to engage in polygamy—an implication which is contradicted by all available sources.


10) 8th paragraph under 'Joseph Smith and Plural Marriage' excerpt:

The women who united with Joseph Smith in plural marriage risked reputation and self-respect in being associated with a principle so foreign to their culture and so easily misunderstood by others. "I made a greater sacrifice than to give my life," said Zina Huntington Jacobs, "for I never anticipated again to be looked upon as an honorable woman." Nevertheless, she wrote, "I searched the scripture & by humble prayer to my Heavenly Father I obtained a testimony for myself." After Joseph's death, most of the women sealed to him moved to Utah with the Saints, remained faithful Church members, and defended both plural marriage and Joseph.

The women who did not unite with Joseph Smith or his associates in plural marriage also risked their good name. If they continued to refuse polygamous proposals, their reputation might get publicly tarnished to preemptively divert attention away from the proposals themselves, which would be perceived as inappropriate and scandalous should they become known to the general public. Sarah Pratt was accused of adultery, Martha Brotherton was called a "mean harlot" descended from "old Jezebel" in a newspaper, and 19-year old Nancy Rigdon was deemed "little, if any, better than a public prostitute" (Richard Van Wagoner 1986).

After Joseph's death, his wives were redistributed among other church leaders. Brigham Young took 7 to 9 of them, his counselor Heber C. Kimball, 11. The other women were divided among other church leaders such as George A. Smith, Amasa Lyman, Ezra T. Benson and others (Todd Compton 1997, p. 83).

This practice would be the foundation of the way in which the Mormons practiced polygamy in the second half of the nineteenth century: as "a symbol of status and inclusion in the inner Mormon circle of power" (Miriam Koktvedgaard Zeitzen, Polygamy: A Cross-Cultural Analysis 2008, p. 99; see also note 11 to the article Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah).


1) 1st paragraph under 'Joseph and Emma' excerpt:

Records of Emma's reactions to plural marriage are sparse; she left no firsthand accounts, making it impossible to reconstruct her thoughts.

This is the third time the authors incorrectly claim that little is known about a certain aspect of Joseph Smith's polygamy. The reason why most Mormons do not know a lot about Emma Smith is that she has been largely ignored in Mormon history ever since she chose to remain in Nauvoo after her husband was murdered, and not join the body of Mormons who emigrated to Utah.

According to author Jana Riess, "Emma's disappearance from LDS history was so total that (…) an article about her for the Ensign in 1979 was the first writing about her to appear in any official church publication in 113 years" (Jana Riess, "The Mormon Reinvention of Emma Smith," 2013). Polygamy is not discussed in this article, however, because that is another subject which Mormon church leaders have tried hard to ignore in official publications before the advent of the internet.

Nevertheless, records of Emma Smith are not "sparse". Linda King Newell and ValeenTippetts Avery's biography Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, for example, is 394 pages long, contains a 14-page bibliography of published sources and builds on research into more than 50 historical newspapers, as well as diaries, minutes, letters and (auto)biographies from 85 archive collections. Expertly put together, these sources make crystal clear how Emma Smith felt about her husband's extra-marital relations: betrayed, deceived, hurt, sad, angry, taunted and humiliated.

However, Newell and Avery's groundbreaking book is not cited in this essay, once again allowing the authors to pretend that little is known about things they don't want to write about.

Additionally, interviews exist of Emma with apostle William Law and several newspaper reporters.


2) 2nd paragraph under 'Joseph and Emma' excerpt:

Emma approved, at least for a time, of four of Joseph Smith's plural marriages in Nauvoo, and she accepted all four of those wives into her household. She may have approved of other marriages as well. But Emma likely did not know about all of Joseph's sealings. She vacillated in her view of plural marriage, at some points supporting it and at other times denouncing it.

The following comes from Alison Udall's "Knowing Emma and Joseph's History: A Response to the Speculative Essay on Early Polygamy" with slight modifications.

This paragraph alone is just astonishing…..Emma approved of four of the 40 marriages (estimates range from 33 to 48 or more). What about the rest of them? And even those four have the caveat "approved at least for a time".

The essay fails to include the history leading up to Emma "approving" two of these marriages. "Emma had heard Joseph and Heber C. Kimball address the Relief Society and allude to a time when women would participate in the endowment. After being involved in the construction and design of the garments, the building of the temple, and hearing about their place in the endowment in the Relief Society, why had women not yet been admitted to the Endowment Council? Heber C. Kimball said it was because some women had led their husbands out of the church. Joseph taught that a man must obey God to be worthy of the endowment and that a wife must obey a righteous husband to merit the same reward. Until Emma could be obedient to Joseph and give him plural wives, she could not participate in the endowment ceremonies, yet he taught her that the endowment was essential for exaltation –as opposed to salvation, which Joseph taught was available to all through the atonement of Christ. Joseph wanted Emma to serve as the example, the Elect Lady, the "disseminator of the endowment blessing," to other women. Thus her rejection of plural marriage would have blocked her admittance into the Endowment Council, because she had not obeyed her husband, and therefore prevented other women from entering as well.

"Simultaneously with the endowment and plural marriage, Joseph formalized a third concept. He explained to Emma that husbands and wives could be married, "sealed," forever by proper priesthood authority. Couples married in traditional ceremonies were considered to be married for "time," or until death separated them, but unions made in the new Mormon ceremonies were to last beyond the grave. These marriages were termed "eternal marriages" or "sealings" and could be performed for living couples as well as for a living spouse and a deceased one. Thus a man could be sealed to his dead wife and also to his living wife. Understanding this doctrine led to the next step, which was the marriage of a living husband to several living wives. This more gradual explanation of doctrine seemed to alleviate some of the repugnance when plural marriage was introduced." "Within the same few weeks, in the spring of 1842, both Hyrum Smith and Emma would accept plural marriage."

The essay fails to include the fact that two of these women, Eliza and Emily Partridge, were young sisters, living/working in their house. "The sisters were an awkward selection because Joseph had already married them two months earlier in March without Emma's knowledge. When Emma finally "approved," Joseph didn't want her to know he had already married them, so he remarried them on May 23, 1843, in a pretend ceremony. "Emily said that "to save family trouble Brother Joseph thought it best to have another ceremony performed….[Emma] had her feelings, and so we thought there was no use in saying anything about it so long as she had chosen us herself"

"Emma had made the sacrifice; and within five days she had her reward. On a cold rainy day, May 28, 1843, Emma was sealed to Joseph for "time and all eternity" On this same day she was the first woman admitted to the Prayer Circle. Joseph would initiate her into the endowment sometime before the early autumn of that year. Shortly thereafter she changed her mind about Eliza and Emily, and tried to monitor their whereabouts in the house when Joseph was home. "Emma was not successful in keeping Joseph from meeting with his wives. Emily Partridge would one day testify under oath that she "roomed" with Joseph on the night of their second marriage to him while Emma, she believed, was in the house at the time. She also testified that she had "slept with him" between her first marriage and the second ceremony.

The essay then uses the word "likely" to describe Emma's knowledge about the other 36 marriages. In fact, it wasn't just "likely" that she didn't know—she didn't know. There are numerous examples that Emma was not aware these marriages were taking place. One of those was to her best friend, Eliza Snow, on June 29, 1842 for time and eternity. Unaware of this marriage, Emma invited Eliza to live with them and she taught the Smith Family School. Records indicate that in February of 1843, Emma was stunned to discover this relationship, and a possible physical altercation took place. There are repeated incidents where Joseph hid what he was doing and Emma was suspicious and upset. It leaves out the details about how these hidden marriages were performed, the circumstances surrounding Joseph's proposals and the experiences of these girls/women. The essay doesn't include all of these women's names or talk about their experiences. They aren't even mentioned in the footnotes. The focus is on Joseph and the rest of these women's names, his wives, are not even included. The essay shares quotes from only three of the 33-48 wives he had.


Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippets Avery, Mormon Enigma, p. 132-44

Richard Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, p. 494.

Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 313-314.


3) 3rd paragraph under 'Joseph and Emma' excerpt:

In the summer of 1843, Joseph Smith dictated the revelation on marriage, a lengthy and complex text containing both glorious promises and stern warnings, some directed at Emma. The revelation instructed women and men that they must obey God's law and commands in order to receive the fulness of His glory.

Although the essay footnotes the verse concerning Emma, they neglected to say that it is a threat to Emma and states that she will be "destroyed" if she doesn't support Joseph.

D&C 132:54 And I command mine handmaid, Emma Smith, to abide and cleave unto my servant Joseph, and to none else. But if she will not abide this commandment she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord; for I am the Lord thy God, and will destroy her if she abide not in my law.

It seems unconscionable that scriptures would actually be written to threaten Emma's life to coerce her to accept polygamy.

Note: To any LDS sister reading this, make sure to notice footnote 41 of the Essay, wherein the author states that God's explicit threat "to destroy" Emma if she doesn't accept Joseph's polygamy (in verses 54 and 61 of Section 132) applies equally to YOU.

The warning to Emma Smith also applies to all who receive sacred ordinances by authority of the priesthood but do not abide the covenants associated with those ordinances.


4) 4th paragraph under 'Joseph and Emma' excerpt:

The revelation on marriage required that a wife give her consent before her husband could enter into plural marriage. Nevertheless, toward the end of the revelation, the Lord said that if the first wife "receive not this law"—the command to practice plural marriage—the husband would be "exempt from the law of Sarah," presumably the requirement that the husband gain the consent of the first wife before marrying additional women.

How is this consent? First they say that the wife should give her consent, but then they say that if the woman doesn't give her consent that the husband doesn't need it. What good does it do to say that the wife should give her consent if the men ignore it if she doesn't give it?

This comes from D&C 132, which was added in 1846, under the direction of Brigham Young years after Joseph engaged in polygamy. Footnote 43 says: see also Genesis 16: 1-3 which doesn't seem to match at all. That story is about Abram and his wife Sarai. She is unable to conceive and gives her husband Hagar, her maid, as a surrogate. What does this have to do with Mormon polygamy? Emma was able to conceive and bear children. So were many of these other first wives. Why is this story being used to come up with a law that tells men they can take additional wives…even if the first wife doesn't approve? It has a backdoor written right into the law. Why even ask? Are we really supposed to accept this law came from a God who loves his daughters? How are we supposed to feel that it's still included in our scriptures?

As far as I can tell, there is NO suggestion in the Old Testament that Abraham taking Hagar was by commandment or divine principle; rather, it was a practical solution to allow Abraham to have children. Perhaps Joseph Smith twisted this Old Testament account to suit his needs—i.e., come up with a way to get around Emma's adamant refusal to accept polygamy.


5) 4th paragraph under 'Joseph and Emma' excerpt:

After Emma opposed plural marriage, Joseph was placed in an agonizing dilemma, forced to choose between the will of God and the will of his beloved Emma. He may have thought Emma's rejection of plural marriage exempted him from the law of Sarah. Her decision to "receive not this law" permitted him to marry additional wives without her consent. Because of Joseph's early death and Emma's decision to remain in Nauvoo and not discuss plural marriage after the Church moved west, many aspects of their story remain known only to the two of them.

The essay infers that Joseph was just put in a terrible situation between God (and the angel) threatening him, and Emma's rejection of plural marriage, as if he is a helpless victim. Although there may be many things about Joseph and Emma's story we don't know, there are also numerous examples of how Emma felt about polygamy and Joseph's behavior that have been documented.

It is a good time to point out that all of this concerning polygamy is totally based on the presumption that God was in fact commanding all of this. Given the disaster polygamy was for the Church, and how it still plagues the church today, isn't it as least as likely that God had nothing at all to do with this? It was shown in another of the Church's essays that early leaders were wrong in claiming to speak for God about the role of Blacks and the priesthood, couldn't they have been wrong about polygamy as well? (See "Race and the Priesthood" where the essay admits that early Church leaders were advancing their own "theories".)

By the time Emma learned, In 1843, that her consent was required for Joseph to enter into the "new and everlasting covenant," he had already entered into at least 25 well-documented plural marriages. ("Remembering the Wives of Joseph Smith" lists the names and dates of women to whom Joseph Smith was "married.")


Emily Partridge, another of Joseph's plural wives wrote:

[The] Prophet Joseph and his wife Emma offered us a home in their family, and they treated us with great kindness. We had been there about a year when the principle of plural marriage was made known to us, and I was married to Joseph Smith on the 4th of March, 1843, Elder Heber C. Kimball performing the ceremony. My sister Eliza was also married to Joseph a few days later. This was done without the knowledge of Emma Smith.

As cited in Andrew Jenson, The Historical Record, Volume VI, Nos. 3-5, May 1887, p. 240


William Clayton, Joseph's scribe and member of his inner Nauvoo circle, recorded an apparently heated encounter between Joseph and Emma on August 16, 1843, during which Emma threatened divorce:

This A.M. J[oseph] told me that since E[mma] came back from St. Louis she had resisted the P[rinciple] in toto & he would have to tell her he would relinquish all for her sake. She said she would give him E[mily] & E[liza] P[artridge] but he knew if he took them she would pitch on him & obtain a divorce & leave him. He however told me he should not relinquish anything[.] O God deliver thy servant from iniquity and bondage.

William Clayton Journal entry for Aug. 16, 1843. (emphasis added)

Emma's biographers understood this to mean that Emma demanded Joseph "relinquish all" his plural wives, which Joseph agreed to do. (Linda King Newell & Valeen Tippetts Avery, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, p. 158 (U. of Ill. Press 1994)). But once Emma was out of earshot, Joseph "confided to Clayton that he did not intend to keep his word." (Id.) (emphasis added)). Add to this Joseph's earlier instruction to William Clayton (discussed above) to "get all the wives you can".

The essay tries to garner sympathy for poor Joseph being forced to sleep with all those women with this romantic 'spin' on what can only be seen as Emma's heartbreak:

After Emma opposed plural marriage, Joseph was placed in an agonizing dilemma, forced to choose between the will of God and the will of his beloved Emma. (See Essay p. 5) (emphasis added)).



1) 1st paragraph under 'Trial and Spiritual Witness' excerpt:

God declared in the Book of Mormon that monogamy was the standard; at times, however, He commanded plural marriage so His people could "raise up seed unto [Him]." Plural marriage did result in an increased number of children born to believing parents.

Footnote 45 accompanying this last sentence reference footnote #6 in the Prior LDS essay 'Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah' which states in part:

Studies have shown that monogamous women bore more children per wife than did polygamous wives except the first.

This admission in the footnotes negates the 'raise up seed' argument as there would not be more children born under polygamy (unless there were more women than men, but studies show this was not the case). Some in the Church have argued that the children born under polygamy were more faithful than those born under monogamy. There isn't any evidence shown to support this but even if true, that is hardly justification for plural marriage.

The essay clearly says what the purpose for polygamy is. In Jacob 2:30 (referenced in footnote 2) it says "For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things." The essay points out that a substantial number of today's members have descended through polygamy. How exactly does this fit with the earlier attempts at minimizing Joseph's sexual relations? Was Joseph following the purpose as he revealed it? Why the secrecy, the denials and the pain for Emma and other wives? If Joseph wasn't having sexual relations to "raise up seed,", why the marriages at all? And why the endless, ongoing discussions from apologists about whether Joseph had sexual relations with his wives?

It's interesting to note that God did not command polygamy in the beginning, when he was trying to populate the earth: it wasn't Adam and multiple Eves, just one Eve. After the Flood, when there was only eight people, God did not command polygamy. When Lehi left Jerusalem with his small band, why didn't God command him to take several wives with him? Those certainly seem like more appropriate times to raise up seed.

Did Joseph's union with these women increase the number of children (seed)? There isn't any clear record that Joseph produced children from these marriages. Would Joseph marrying women that already had husbands increase the number of children? No, the women could have (and did have) plenty of children with their husbands. So how did Joseph practicing polygamy increase seed?

Joseph Smith married Mary Elizabeth Rollins on 17 Jan 1842, when she was seven months pregnant with child from her husband Adam Lightner. Obviously Joseph didn't marry her to raise seed when the seeding had already been done.


2) 2nd paragraph under 'Trial and Spiritual Witness' excerpt:

According to Helen Mar Kimball, Joseph Smith stated that "the practice of this principle would be the hardest trial the Saints would ever have to test their faith." Though it was one of the "severest" trials of her life, she testified that it had also been "one of the greatest blessings."

As stated by MormonThink above, like many polygamous wives, Helen hated the very idea of polygamy when first introduced to it and for many years afterward as she said in many of her writings. The negative writings by Helen seem to greatly outweigh the positive writings. For more on Helen Kimball see: Joseph married girls as young as 14 years old


3) Paragraphs 3,4 &5 under 'Trial and Spiritual Witness':

The decision to accept such a wrenching trial usually came only after earnest prayer and intense soul-searching. Brigham Young said that, upon learning of plural marriage, "it was the first time in my life that I had desired the grave." "I had to pray unceasingly," he said, "and I had to exercise faith and the Lord revealed to me the truth of it and that satisfied me." Heber C. Kimball found comfort only after his wife Vilate had a visionary experience attesting to the rightness of plural marriage. "She told me," Vilate's daughter later recalled, "she never saw so happy a man as father was when she described the vision and told him she was satisfied and knew it was from God."

Lucy Walker recalled her inner turmoil when Joseph Smith invited her to become his wife. "Every feeling of my soul revolted against it," she wrote. Yet, after several restless nights on her knees in prayer, she found relief as her room "filled with a holy influence" akin to "brilliant sunshine." She said, "My soul was filled with a calm sweet peace that I never knew," and "supreme happiness took possession of my whole being."

Not all had such experiences. Some Latter-day Saints rejected the principle of plural marriage and left the Church, while others declined to enter the practice but remained faithful. Nevertheless, for many women and men, initial revulsion and anguish was followed by struggle, resolution, and ultimately, light and peace. Sacred experiences enabled the Saints to move forward in faith.

This is a cherry-picked selection of quotes/experiences that are positive and faith promoting. None of the other credible stories, that don't fit this purpose, are included.

There are similar stories to be had among every religious leader who has ever instituted polygamy. Of course, all of the groups claiming to have received revelation from God to institute polygamy can't be telling the truth since the groups claiming to have divine polygamous authority also claim they are the only ones with the authority and label the other groups as apostates (such as the LDS Church condemning the FLDS Church for practicing polygamy today). There are of course many stories from women in the FLDS Church under Warren Jeffs that have similar testimonies of polygamy and of Warren Jeffs as a prophet. Here's a testimony from a young woman from yet another polygamous sect.

In a 1996 secretly recorded meeting of the fundamentalist breakoff group The True and Living Church of Jesus Christ and Saints of the Last Days (located in Manti, Utah and established by their polygamist prophet and leader James D. Harmston) is heard the tearful testimony of a young and struggling plural wife.

I've been searching for a witness of this work and of this church, and since tonight I got my witness and it's burning within my soul of how important this work is and how true it is. I know it is. And it's hard to believe that just a year ago I was in High School, and now I'm in a plural marriage and [audible sigh] struggling. But I know without a shadow of a doubt that this is the Lord's work—that I have finally found it. I say this in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

"8.0—My LDS Journey—Follow the Spirit" (found at Link is here.; reconfirmed 10.29.2014). Citation begins at 5:11and ends at 6:05 minutes.


Teachings or expected behavior that, at first blush, may be judged repulsive and offensive to one's sensibilities, may later be recognized and embraced as true; especially if the source of the injunction is a recognized and revered priesthood authority figure (such as Joseph Smith or James Harmston). Such change in attitudes are often attributed to confirmation from the Spirit of its truthfulness. However, confirmation bias and possibly, Stockholm syndrome may best explain their swell of warm emotion; feelings that served to confirm that their prophet was only acting upon what the Lord himself had prescribed. In which case, the victim unwittingly becomes complicit in their own victimization.

If there was anyone who should have received a spiritual witness of the divinity of plural marriage it should have been Emma Smith, but for some reason God did not grant her a 'confirmation' of the principle but yet apparently gave some sort of confirmation to a handful of her husband's plural wives. Why would that be?

As can be seen from the examples above, it takes most people tremendous effort to act against their natural feelings, their socialization and their conscience. Many reports of the struggle of those who first entered a polygamous relationship, therefore, mention days and nights of prayer, fasting and sleep deprivation, combined with enormous psychological pressure and emotional distress.

Contrary to what the authors of this essay seem to think, most people will not consider this "a sacred experience" to be emulated in any way. Overriding one's natural impulses and acting against one's conscience in the name of faith is the domain of religious fanaticism.

Also missing from this article is the message that religious leaders who, from their position of authority, extort sex from followers in exchange for promises of salvation do not necessarily need to be obeyed (Money 2014). This may be a modern message but then again, the Mormon church chose a modern medium, the internet, to release this essay to a modern audience.

There are many truly horrific tales of Mormon Polygamy not mentioned in the Essay. Here's one to consider: Bishop Snow and the castration of Thomas Lewis


1) 1st paragraph under 'Conclusion:

The challenge of introducing a principle as controversial as plural marriage is almost impossible to overstate. A spiritual witness of its truthfulness allowed Joseph Smith and other Latter-day Saints to accept this principle. Difficult as it was, the introduction of plural marriage in Nauvoo did indeed "raise up seed" unto God. A substantial number of today's members descend through faithful Latter-day Saints who practiced plural marriage.

The 'seed' issue has already been discussed above and showed that polygamy did not increase the population compared to monogamy.

Unfortunately, no sources are given on which the assumption that a substantial number of today's Mormons descend from polygamists is based. What is known, however, is that the Mormon hierarchy has become intimately connected through dynastic and polygamous marriages (Quinn 1997, pp. 163-197). This confirms that polygamy was an important tool in establishing and expanding the power base of the Mormon church leadership (see note 25 to this article and note 11 to the article Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah).

It's not clear what point the authors are trying to make when they appeal to the idea that a lot of members today come from the results of polygamous unions. There is a considerably larger number of today's members who come from faithful Saints who were monogamous.


2) 2nd paragraph under 'Conclusion:

Church members no longer practice plural marriage. Consistent with Joseph Smith's teachings, the Church permits a man whose wife has died to be sealed to another woman when he remarries. Moreover, members are permitted to perform ordinances on behalf of deceased men and women who married more than once on earth, sealing them to all of the spouses to whom they were legally married. The precise nature of these relationships in the next life is not known, and many family relationships will be sorted out in the life to come. Latter-day Saints are encouraged to trust in our wise Heavenly Father, who loves His children and does all things for their growth and salvation.

Response taken in its entirety from Rollo Tomasi:

This paragraph is troublesome because much of it is misleading and/or omits very material information. First, a form of plural marriage is practiced in today's LDS Church, as the second sentence acknowledges: a widower may be sealed to a living second wife upon the death of his first wife. Moreover, and although not stated, a civilly divorced man (but who is still sealed to his first and living but now ex-wife) can be sealed to a second living wife (the only limitation is that the man first must receive a "sealing clearance" from the First Presidency). Thus, under current LDS policy and practice, a living man can have two living eternal wives. In contrast, but also not stated in the Essay, a living woman cannot be sealed to a second husband UNLESS her sealing to the first husband (whether dead or alive) is CANCELLED by the First Presidency. Even today, Joseph's long-ago polygamy influences who can marry whom inside a Mormon temple.

By the way, current polygamy-related policies often lead to heartbreaking situations—for example, current LDS policy states that if an LDS woman sealed to a first husband in the temple, but who later becomes widowed or civilly divorced, remarries a second husband to whom she is not sealed in the temple (because her first sealing was NOT cancelled by the First Presidency), then all children born to that second marriage belong (along with the mother) to the FIRST husband in the hereafter. (See Handbook 1, § 3.6.2). This has to be the most horrid policy in the Church today.

In the end, the Brethren can only offer us the hope that "many family relationships will be sorted out in the life to come." (See Essay p. 6). If this is the best explanation they can give because relationships in the hereafter are just too unknown, then it's time to get rid of these hurtful policies and NOT perform them in this mortal life any form of plural marriage intended for the hereafter.

In short, no one can honestly excuse or justify Joseph's polygamy where the very subject of the Essay, Joseph Smith, once boldly (and falsely) proclaimed:

What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one.

History of the Church, Vol 6, p 411. (emphasis added)

"What a thing," indeed.

~~~ Rollo Tomasi


There are so many things relating to polygamy that were left out of the essay. Here are a few things that quickly come to mind (some of which have previously been mentioned in this response):

1) Brigham Young also married women who already had husbands.

- Lucy Ann Decker married BY in 1842 and she was still married to William Seeley (she was Young's first plural wife).

- Augusta Adams married BY in 1843 and was still married to Henry Cobb.

- Zina Huntington married BY in 1846 and was still married to Henry Jacobs as well as already being sealed to Joseph Smith.


Zina and Henry Jacobs lived together as husband and wife until the Mormon pioneers reached Mt. Pisgah, Iowa. At this temporary stop on the pioneer trail, Brigham Young announced that "it was time for men who were walking in other men's shoes to step out of them. Brother Jacobs, the woman you claim for a wife does not belong to you. She is the spiritual wife of brother Joseph, sealed up to him. I am his proxy, and she, in this behalf, with her children, are my property. You can go where you please, and get another, but be sure to get one of your own kindred spirit" (Hall 1853, 43-44). President Young then called Jacobs on a mission to England. Witnesses to his departure commented that he was so emotionally ill they had to "put him on a blanket and carry him to the boat to get him on his way".("Short Sketch of the Life of Henry B. Jacobs" By Ora J. Cannon)

Henry returned from his mission and settled in California. But he was still in love with his wife Zina, now a plural wife of Brigham Young. Henry's letters to his wife Zina were heartrending. On 2 September 1852 he wrote: "O how happy I should be if I only could see you and the little children, bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh." "I am unhappy," Henry lamented, "there is no peace for poor me, my pleasure is you, my comfort has vanished.... O Zina, can I ever, will I ever get you again, answer the question please." In an undated Valentine he added:

Zina my mind never will change from Worlds without Ends, no never, the same affection is there and never can be moved I do not murmur nor complain of the handlings of God no verily, no but I feel alone and no one to speak to, to call my own. I feel like a lamb without a mother, I do not blame any person or persons, no--May the Lord our Father bless Brother Brigham and all purtains unto him forever. Tell him for me I have no feelings against him nor never had, all is right according to the Law of the Celestial Kingdom of our god Joseph [Smith]." ("Short Sketch of the Life of Henry B. Jacobs" By Ora J. Cannon)


2) Sealing authority.

It's important to note that the sealing power was not given to Joseph until April 3, 1836. Under what authority was Joseph's marriages before this date performed? This is not addressed in the essay but this admission supports those critics that assert that Joseph married women without any divine edict.


3) Article of Faith violations.

Article 12: "We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law." Clearly Joseph and the other practicing polygamists broke the laws of the land when they practiced polygamy.

Article 13: "We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men ….If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things." A question for Joseph: Are you being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, and virtuous when you take another man's wife as your own without first having the husband's consent? Are you being honest, true, and chaste when you take a plural wife without first securing your own wife's consent? Joseph began living the "new and everlasting covenant" before he ever received it!


4) Women Joseph married were not virgins.

Given that 11 of Smith's plural wives were already married (to living husbands), how can such women be considered "virgins" as the commandment required? In the case of Joseph's second plural marriage—Lucinda Pendleton Morgan Harris—of her relationship with Joseph she said, "I am his mistress since four years." A mistress is decidedly not a plural wife.

List of women already married to living husbands at the time they were married to Joseph may be found at Remembering the Wives of Joseph Smith.

Wilhelm Ritter von Wymetal, Mormon Portraits: Joseph Smith the Prophet, His Family and His Friends, 60; emphasis added (SLC: Tribune Printing & Pub., 1886). Book may be found online. Accessed 10.30.2014.


5) Accounts of Joseph threatening to ruin the character of women who turned down his marriage proposals.

On more than one occasion, Smith introduced his intentions to women with this unapologetic command: "The Lord has given you to me." Many women believed this because surely the prophet would not deceive the lovely women in his church. (Although some women wondered why the Lord wouldn't have consulted them first.) In late 1840 or early 1841, Sarah Pratt reported being propositioned twice by the prophet. As Richard Van Wagoner wrote in Dialogue, Sarah said that Smith told her the following:

Sister Pratt, the Lord has given you to me as one of my spiritual wives [somewhat like a concubine, or a wife for the night]. I have the blessings of Jacob granted me, as God granted holy men of old, and as I have long looked upon you with favor, and an earnest desire of connubial bliss, I hope you will not repulse or deny me.

LDS author Grant Palmer states the obvious: "This is not a marriage offer." Reflecting on her experiences with Smith in May 1886, Sarah Pratt described Smith's modus operandi in these unflattering terms:

Joseph did not think of marriage or sealing ceremony for many years. He used to state to his intended victims, as he did to me: "God does not care if we have a good time, if only other people do not know it." He only introduced a marriage ceremony when he found out that he could not get certain women without it…. If any woman, like me, opposed his wishes, he used to say: "Be silent, or I shall ruin your character."… When he had assailed me and saw that he could not seal my lips, he sent word to me that he would work my salvation, if I kept silent.

The need for secrecy is a common feature behind many of Smith's clandestine liaisons. And yet, Smith could also be unabashedly obvious in communicating his intentions. Melissa Schindle (wife of Colonel George Schindle), for example, on July 2, 1842 swore in an affidavit that was published later that same month (in the Sangamo Journal) in which she stated:

in the fall of 1841 [Joseph asked] if he could have the privilege of sleeping with her. [That] it was the will of the Lord that he should have illicit intercourse with her, and that he never proceeded to do any thing of that kind with any woman without first having the will of the Lord on the subject." After being spurned by Melissa, Smith warned her "that she must never tell of his propositions to her, for he had all influence in [Nauvoo], and if she told he would ruin her character …" But no sooner does Mrs. Schindle reject Smith's proposition, he crawls into bed with another married woman: Mrs. Catherine Fuller Warren! As the physician John C. Bennett reported, Smith would seduce women by telling them "that the Lord had granted the blessing of Jacob, and that there was no sin in it.

Richard S. Van Wagoner, "Sarah Pratt: The Shaping of an Apostate" Dialogue 19; emphasis added (Summer 1986): 71-72; John C. Bennett, "Bennett's Second and Third Letters," Sangamo Journal (Springfield, Illinois) July 15, 1842, emphasis in original, brackets provided by Grant H. Palmer ("Sexual Allegations against Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Polygamy in Nauvoo" by Grant H. Palmer; reconfirmed 11.10.2014).

Wilhelm Ritter von Wymetal, Mormon Portraits: Joseph Smith the Prophet, His Family and His Friends, 62; emphasis found in the original; bold added by present writer (SLC: Tribune Printing & Pub., 1886). Book may be found online at Link is here. accessed 10.30.2014.

John C. Bennett, "Bennett's Second and Third Letters,"Sangamo Journal July 15, 1842; emphasis added. Citation found in "Sexual Allegations against Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Polygamy in Nauvoo" by Grant H. Palmer.


6) Deadlines

It is difficult enough for these women to decide whether or not to accept the prophet Joseph's proposal of marriage, but to make matters worse, Joseph often gave the women only 24 hours to decide. Martha Brotherton, Lucy Walker, and Helen Mar Kimball are three such women who come immediately to mind, but there may be more. If no was the answer, eternal damnation was their comeuppance.


7) The need for secrecy (to include not telling parents or living husband)

What may not be known is that Smith tried something similar with another close friend: the daughter of Sydney Rigdon; only the attempt was made behind Sydney's back, like so many of the others. When the 19 year-old Nancy Rigdon became infuriated and told Smith no, she immediately reported the incident to her father. Needless to say, Sydney was incensed and confronted Smith. At first, Joseph cowardly denied the accusation, until Sydney showed him a condescending letter he had written to Nancy. Caught in a lie, Joseph immediately backpedaled; this time insisting that he was only looking to test Nancy's virtue. Well, if that's the case, Nancy passed with flying colors. Of Joseph, however, the same cannot be said.

The untitled letter is found in Joseph Smith's History of the Church, Vol. 5:134-136 (Deseret Book Company, 1978).

See Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 2nd Ed., 310-311 (Alfred A. Knopf, 1991).

Details of the Nancy Rigdon account, the reader is referred to: David Fitzgerald, The Mormons, 103-105 (Copyright © 2013 by David Fitzgerald).


8) Other women sealed to Joseph before Emma

Joseph was sealed to some 25 women before he was sealed to his first and only legal wife Emma Hale Smith. Defenders of the Church will state that Emma was not ready to accept the sealing as detailed above. Regardless of the reason, Emma should have been sealed to Joseph first, even if he had to wait until she would accept the sealing.


9) Testimony that Joseph admitted polygamy was wrong.

The essay only speaks of testimony Joseph gave that polygamy was commanded of by God. We do have some accounts by LDS leaders that tell of Joseph Smith admitting that polygamy was a mistake shortly before he died. These accounts should at least be included in the compilation of information regarding Joseph Smith and polygamy:

In conclusion of this matter, it should be noted that there seems to be evidence that even Joseph Smith himself renounced his personal involvement in polygamy, acknowledging that the 1843 revelation to institute it as official Church doctrine, originated with the Devil and not God. The following statement made by William Marks, who was Presiding Elder at Nauvoo, Illinois in 1844, may be quoted in this regard: "[Joseph] said it [plural marriage] eventually would prove the overthrow of the church, and we should soon be obliged to leave the United States unless it could be speedily put down. He was satisfied that it was a cursed doctrine, and that there must be every exertion made to put it down.

William Marks, Saints' Herald, Volume I, Number 1, page 22.

The testimony of Isaac Sheen, who later became a leader in the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (RLDS), matched that of Marks when he stated,

Joseph Smith repented of his connection with this doctrine, and said that it was of the devil. He caused the revelation on that subject to be burned, and when he voluntarily came to Nauvoo and resigned himself into the arms of his enemies, he said that he was going to Carthage to die. At that time he also said that, if it had not been for that accursed spiritual wife doctrine, he would not have come that.

Isaac Sheen, ibid., page 24.


10) Accounts of Joseph's impropriety towards women before polygamy.

Since Joseph is making extraordinary claims regarding an angel commanding him to enter into plural marriages, it is only fair to list accounts of Joseph's alleged behavior towards women before the plural marriage doctrine was announced to the world. LDS author Grant Palmer published an essay called Sexual Allegations against Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Polygamy in Nauvoo. This seems to show a pattern in Smith's behavior that might cast some doubt on Joseph's claims of divine authority regarding his relations with women.


11) The essay lacked a woman's perspective.

Many readers have written us to complain that the Church essay was obviously written by a man (or men) and it totally lacked a woman's perspective. The women did not sympathize with how hard this was on Joseph but as everyone could imagine it was much, much harder on the women to endure having their husband sleep with other women and attempt to be happy about it than it was for the men to be 'commanded' to sleep with multiple women.


There are many more omissions to Mormon polygamy. Read about them at polygamy

Ending summary

The writer of the essay wants the reader to have only a small amount of information which is strategically placed to put the history in the best possible light while still omitting many of the serious issues about polygamy. This essay lacks any objectivity. The author is quick to cast doubt on any disfavor to JS by stating there is no "firsthand accounts" yet how many arguments in favor of JS are misleading conjecture from secondhand accounts. Many of the firsthand accounts in the references are far removed from the time period in discussion.

It appears that the author of the essay spent an inordinate amount of time trying to find the right 'couching language' to phrase things so he can share some of the more disturbing details of Joseph Smith's polygamy without shocking the reader with the facts. The essay eases the reader into it without just being blunt so the points can be clearly made. Examples include:


The essay could have been more clear and blunt with the following outline:

1) Polygamy was illegal.

2) Joseph and others practiced polygamy in secret.

3) Joseph married 30-40 women.

4) Polygamy, including Joseph's polygamy, involved having sex.

5) Joseph married a 14 year-old. (Actually two 14 year-olds) and a total of seven girls under the age of 18.

6) Joseph didn't tell his wife Emma about his secret marriages.

7) Joseph was 'sealed' to other women before the sealing power was even restored to the earth.

8) Joseph married other men's wives (11 or more). He had sex with at least several of them.


Why was Polygamy Practiced?

One of the reported purposes of the essay is to provide answers to the members. So why was polygamy practiced? The essay alludes to the same, old reasons that have been used for over a century but have since been disproved. Essay brings up the 'raising seed' argument even though in the footnotes of the prior essay on polygamy in Utah it stated that 'Studies have shown that monogamous women bore more children per wife than did polygamous wives except the first.'

The essay cites that polygamy was commanded in the Bible. This is a clear misrepresentation as the Bible did not "command" people to practice polygamy but rather God seemed to allow it as a custom of the people.

The essay gives no definitive reason why polygamy was practiced but primarily tried to show the positive side of it. Like the other essays, this essay just raises more questions than it answers. The prophets are again silent on this and turn to Church historians for answers instead of revelation.


Joseph Smith's marriages to women who were already married.

The essay states "There are several possible explanations for this practice." Since this is the most troubling aspect of polygamy for many Latter-day Saints to cope with, can't we do better than this? Why can't the prophet, God's servant and mouthpiece, simply ask Heavenly Father for an explanation instead of relying on Church historians who try to guess God's mind as to the reason and give multiple "possible explanations"?

The essay also fails to commit on many levels so the reader can continue to think that Joseph Smith did not have sex with the women he married and thus keep him on the pedestal he has enjoyed in most members' minds. However, the essay opens the door to other possibilities so it can't be said that the essay denied Joseph had sex with those women.

The essay borrows heavily from published work done by LDS apologist Brian Hales who acknowledged he did provide input to the essay in terms of suggesting edits to it (see Mormon Matters - podcast #256 (with guest LDS apologist Brian Hales). However, Brian has been very vocal in saying that there is strong evidence that Joseph had sex with at least three of the women Joseph married who already had husbands—Sylvia Sessions, Mary Heron, and Sarah Ann Whitney. Why doesn't the essay list this important evidence instead of omitting it? It seems obvious that it was done so most members can more easily continue to believe Joseph did not have sex with women who were already married to other men, even though several LDS apologists believe that he did as the evidence supports it.

Bottom line for many of us who have studied this essay: the author's "justifications" to excuse away Joseph's polyandry all fail under close scrutiny. Joseph's polyandry was wrong in every sense of the word, and I believe even he ultimately came to this conclusion as evidenced by his later pursuit of single women as potential plural wives.

Although there is reason to believe that Joseph likely did have sex with these married women, it is even more troubling to think that if you had spent your whole life on earth living with your devoted spouse, fully intending to be married together in heaven for all eternity, just like you have enjoyed on earth, then the prophet says he wants your wife to be one of his many wives, you have to give her up. The children are also separated from either the father or the mother. Are we to believe that God actually commanded the prophet to do this and cause the wife, the first husband and the children, a lot of unnecessary anguish just so the prophet can have another unneeded wife in the hereafter?

We don't know of any LDS that really believe in their heart of hearts that our Heavenly Father commanded Joseph to marry another man's wife - to steal away a beloved life-long spouse just to be another one of Joseph's many wives in the next life. And this was not done once, but was done at least 11 times. And if Joseph 'exceeded his authority' in marrying women already married, then he's an adulterer 11 times over and hardly the chosen prophet of the final dispensation.


Trust the Church

Regarding the matter of polygamy and sorting out all the husbands and wives in the next life, the essay admonishes that 'Latter-day Saints are encouraged to trust in our wise Heavenly Father.' But it is not trust in the Lord they are really asking, but rather trust in the LDS Church when it teaches that polygamy was really commanded by God when there is no evidence to support this. It is difficult to trust a church that has kept this information from its members for so long and even now is not entirely open about it. These essays are still only read by a small minority of the Church who happen to run across them on the Church's website. Why aren't these essays discussed in The Ensign or General Conference talks so everyone can know about them save the few that stumble across them largely due to efforts of critics talking about them or non-LDS newspaper articles that mention some of them via critics discussing the essays? Why aren't missionaries told to share this information with potential converts?


Other non-LDS leaders who practiced polygamy

Many charismatic people in history convinced others that God commanded them to marry polygamously and/or engage in sexual activity not in harmony with mainstream Christian beliefs. They did it with no more evidence than Joseph Smith had. Leaders such as Warren Jeffs, prophet of the FLDS Church who married scores of women, including young teenagers just as Joseph Smith did. Even after being convicted of rape and sentenced to prison, he still has thousands of followers that believe he is a prophet.

Brian David Mitchell was a crazed religious zealot who kidnapped 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart in 2002 and forced her to have sex with him and treated her as some sort of 'second wife'. He claimed he received a revelation in which he was commanded to forcibly take Mormon girls between the ages of 10 and 14 to become his polygamist wives. This new revelation was then supplemented by another one where he was commanded to forcibly take a 14-year-old to become his first polygamist wife, of a total of 350 wives (seven times seven wives plus one, again times seven) that the revelation told Mitchell to take. Elizabeth Smart admitted that she was brainwashed by Mitchell which is why she denied she was Elizabeth Smart when confronted by authorities when they finally found her.

David Koresh, the American leader of the Branch Davidians religious sect, also claimed to receive revelation in which God wanted him to marry certain young girls. He took each girl of his compound to wife at puberty. His cult came to a standoff with authorities in Waco, TX. in 1993. After a 51 day standoff, the cult leaders set fire to the compound and killed 76 of their members ending the siege.

All of these men said they were commanded by God to take plural wives. Today, virtually everyone (LDS and non-LDS) believe these three men (and countless others) are frauds and did not really receive any edict from God to sexually exploit women, even if these self-proclaimed prophets believe it themselves along with their followers.

How was Joseph Smith any different? Why should he be believed over these men as they claimed the same thing and acted in much the same way. Faithful Latter-day Saints will hold up the Book of Mormon as evidence. If the BOM is true then Joseph was a prophet and did indeed receive revelation to marry other men's wives and 14 year-old girls and to break the law doing it and to lie about it for his whole life and to deceive his first wife, Emma about the whole thing. Of course, if the Book of Mormon is not really an historical document, as the evidence continues to mount against it, then it is much more likely polygamy was a mistake and was not commanded of by God to Joseph Smith.



We do give credit to the Church for even printing this essay in the first place and validating what critics have been saying for years. However, the essay sugarcoated Joseph's polygamy by printing largely faith-promoting accounts of the practice and ignoring the accounts which show the more unsavory side of Joseph's involvement with polygamy.

They say "the Devil is in the details." That is what this essay lacks and intentionally so. We implore readers to read additional accounts from reliable sources to get a more accurate and detailed picture of what happened in the early Church. Only then can someone really understand how horrific and wrong this practice was—especially as practiced by Joseph. In books the plural wives become real people and not simply numbers. Please read them and then decide if this doctrine really came from God.

In the end, polygamy, especially to young teenagers and to women who already had husbands, sounds like something the Devil would have commanded of Joseph, not a kind and loving God. Or, more likely, equal consideration should be given to the possibility that an angel did not actually command Joseph to do these things but he did it for the same reason other leaders have done similar things for centuries: power, sex and control.

Further Research

Other responses to the essay (some of it used in MT's response as noted earlier):

Alison Udall and her responses on Main Street Plaza

Mormon Discussions's poster Rollo Tomasi

Essay by Kim M. Clark: Angels with Swords - Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo



Mormon Matters - podcast #256 (with guests LDS apologist Brian Hales, LDS author Todd Compton and Barbara Brown),

Mormon Stories - podcast #503, (John Dehlin and guests Lindsay Hansen Park, John Hamer and J. Nelson-Seawright)

Mormon Stories - podcast #512 (John Dehlin with guests Lindsay Hansen Park, J. Nelson-Seawright, and Joe Geisner)



TV Interview by CES teacher and author Grant Palmer on November 19th, 2014 by Jason Wallace in SLC : The Ancient Paths - Grant Palmer on New Polygamy Statement

Brother Jake made an entertaining and informative 4-minute video on the Church's essays. Of particular note is he makes mention of how the Polygamy in Kirtland and Nauvoo essay is not listed with the other essays on the Church's website: Brother Jake Presents: A Gospel Topics Commercial


First LDS Essay and MormonThink's response:

Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah - Response to



MormonThink's section on polygamy

Brian Hales Website: Link is here.

Link is here.

Link is here.

Link is here.

Other Polygamy Links listed here



Polygamy is probably best understood by reading books. You can really get a sense of what the people that practiced it went through. Some of the best books on polygamy have been written by faithful LDS authors and can be purchased at Deseret Books or at BYU.

Mormon Polygamy: A History, Richard S. Van Wagoner (make sure to read the 2nd edition). Link is here.

In Sacred Loneliness; The plural wives of Joseph Smith, Todd Compton. Link is here.

see FARMS favorable review: Link is here.

Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, Linda King Newell,Valeen Tippetts Avery.
Recommended by the official church historian, Leonard Arrington. It's one of the books that was allowed to be read for class assignment at BYU. It's not dedicated to polygamy but deals with it quite a bit - mostly from Emma's perspective. Available at Deseret Books.

Link is here.

Wife No. 19 or the story of A Life in Bondage, Ann Eliza Young
Available online here: Link is here.

No Man Knows My history, Fawn Brodie.
Not a book dedicated to polygamy but deals with it quite a bit. Fawn Brodie was President David O'McKay's niece. It's available for free at most libraries.

Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power, D. Michael Quinn.
Written while BYU History Professor had access to church archives. Covers Joseph Smith and beginnings of Mormonism.

Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power, D. Michael Quinn.
Covers Brigham Young and into Utah.