This entry is part 8 of 13 in Leav­ing the Church — Eric Nel­son.

1. Back­ground: The LDS Church pub­lished an essay, Plur­al Mar­riage in Kirt­land and Nau­voo, on Octo­ber 22, 2014, dis­cussing its polyg­a­mist past. The essay admit­ted the fol­low­ing, which will be dis­cussed in fur­ther depth dur­ing the remain­der of this sec­tion: (1) Joseph mar­ried girls as young as 14; (2) Joseph mar­ried women who were mar­ried to oth­er men, includ­ing active LDS men; (3) Joseph lied about polygamy to Church mem­bers, includ­ing his wife, Emma; (4) Joseph had sex with at least some of his plur­al wives; (5) Joseph failed to prac­tice polygamy in accor­dance with Doc­trine and Covenants 132.

2. Joseph Smith Prac­ticed Polygamy: Joseph Smith was mar­ried to at least 34 women dur­ing his life­time (and the Church’s essay states he may have been mar­ried to as many as 40 women). LDS his­to­ri­an, Todd Comp­ton, has writ­ten an exten­sive biog­ra­phy on each of Joseph’s 34 doc­u­ment­ed wives in In Sacred Lone­li­ness: the Plur­al Wives of Joseph Smith. Comp­ton ana­lyzed the lives of the women list­ed here, and many of the women list­ed here. Many of Joseph’s wives can be ver­i­fied through Fam​il​y​Search​.org. Biogra­phies of each wife can be found here.

Wife Date Age Hus­band*
Emma Hale
Fan­ny Alger
Lucin­da Mor­gan Harris
Louisa Bea­man
Zina Hunt­ing­ton Jacobs
Pre­sendia Hunt­ing­ton Buell
Agnes Coolbrith
Sylvia Ses­sions Lyon
Mary Rollins Lightner
Pat­ty Bartlett Sessions
Marin­da John­son Hyde
Eliz­a­beth Davis Durfee
Sarah Kings­ley Cleveland
Del­cena Johnson
Eliza R. Snow
Sarah Ann Whitney
Martha McBride Knight
Ruth Vose Sayers
Flo­ra Ann Woodworth
Emi­ly Dow Partridge
Eliza Maria Partridge
Almera John­son
Lucy Walk­er
Sarah Lawrence
Maria Lawrence
Helen Mar Kimball
Han­na Ells
Elvi­ra Cowles Holmes
Rho­da Richards
Des­de­mona Fullmer
Olive Frost
Melis­sa Lott
Nan­cy Winchester
Fan­ny Young
Jan 1827
1833 — 1835
Apr 1841
Oct 1841
Dec 1841
Jan 1842
Feb 1842
Feb 1842
Mar 1842
Apr 1842
Jun 1842
Jun 1842
Jul 1842
Jun 1842
Jul 1842
Aug 1842
Feb 1843
Spring 1843
Mar 1843
Mar 1843
Apr 1843
May 1843
May 1843
May 1843
May 1843
Mid 1843
Jun 1843
Jun 1843
Jul 1843
Mid 1843
Sep 1843
Nov 1843
George W. Harris
Hen­ry Jacobs
Nor­man Buell
Wind­sor Lyon
Adam Lightner
David Sessions
Orson Hyde
Jabez Durfee
John Cleveland
Edward Sayers
Jonathan Holmes
* Liv­ing Hus­band at the time of
Mar­riage to Joseph Smith

As demon­strat­ed above, of Joseph’s 34 wives, sev­en of were teenage girls as young as 14-years-old. Joseph was 37-years-old when he mar­ried 14-year-old Helen Mar Kim­ball, mean­ing she was 23-years younger than Joseph. Sev­er­al of these women were Joseph’s fos­ter daugh­ters (Lawrence sis­ters, Par­tridge sis­ters, Fan­ny Alger, Lucy Walker).

3. Polyandry: The Church’s polygamy essay acknowl­edges that “Joseph Smith was sealed to a num­ber of women who were already mar­ried,” esti­mat­ing the num­ber of these seal­ings at 12–14. Comp­ton con­ser­v­a­tive­ly esti­mates that Joseph engaged in at least 11 polyan­drous rela­tion­ships. Thus, of Joseph Smith’s 34 wives, at least 11 of were mar­ried to oth­er liv­ing men at the time they mar­ried Joseph. Of those 11 mar­ried women, at least eight were mar­ried to active LDS men. On sev­er­al occa­sions, Joseph called these men on mis­sions short­ly before or short­ly after mar­ry­ing their wives (some­times in secret). For exam­ple, Joseph called Apos­tle Orson Hyde on a mis­sion to ded­i­cate Israel and, while Hyde was away, Joseph secret­ly mar­ried his wife, Marin­da Hyde, with­out Orson’s knowledge.

4. The fol­low­ing page con­tains anoth­er chart that cat­e­go­rizes each of Joseph’s 34 doc­u­ment­ed wives:

5. Evi­dence of Joseph’s Adul­tery: There is sub­stan­tial evi­dence that Joseph engaged in numer­ous adul­ter­ous rela­tion­ships. In fact, Grant Palmer wrote a cred­i­ble, well-sourced arti­cle on the sex­u­al alle­ga­tions against Joseph Smith. How­ev­er, the cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing Joseph’s first plur­al wife, Fan­ny Alger, is espe­cial­ly trou­ble­some. Fan­ny was a ser­vant in the Smith home and became very close to the Smiths (par­tic­u­lar­ly Emma). Some­time after Fan­ny turned 16, rumors began cir­cu­lat­ing that Joseph was engag­ing in an affair with her. War­ren Par­rish, Joseph’s sec­re­tary for a time, told Ben­jamin John­son that he and Oliv­er Cow­dery knew the report of an affair between Joseph and Fan­ny “to be true,” for they “were spied upon and found togeth­er.” (Let­ter from Ben­jamin John­son to George Gibbs, 1903; Joseph Smith the Mor­mon Prophet, pp. 103–104.)

William E. McLellin, who once served as an apos­tle, told Joseph Smith III: “Again, I told her [Emma] 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 true.” (William E. McLellin to Joseph Smith III, 10 Jan. 1861; Library-Archives, Com­mu­ni­ty of Christ.) Oliv­er Cow­dery said he learned of this inci­dent direct­ly from Joseph and that Joseph had con­fid­ed to him that “he had con­fessed to Emma” of the affair while seek­ing her for­give­ness. (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.) When Emma found out that Joseph was hav­ing sex with Fan­ny, Emma threw her out of the house. Fan­ny and her fam­i­ly left Kirt­land in Sep­tem­ber 1836 and moved to Dublin, Indi­ana, where she mar­ried non-Mor­mon Solomon Custer Novem­ber 16, 1836.

Cow­dery was prob­a­bly the first to open­ly speak of the Alger affair. In Novem­ber 1837, he “insinuate[d] that Joseph Smith Jr. was guilty of adul­tery” in a con­ver­sa­tion with George W. Har­ris and again with Apos­tle David W. Pat­ten. (Can­non and Cook, Far West Record, 167.) In his cor­re­spon­dence with his broth­er, War­ren Cow­dery, Oliv­er was more direct. In a let­ter dat­ed Jan­u­ary 21, 1838, Oliv­er wrote: “When he [Joseph Smith] was there we had some con­ver­sa­tion in which in every instance I did not fail to affirm that what I had said was strict­ly true. A dirty, nasty, filthy affair of his and Fan­ny Alger’s was talked over in which I strict­ly declared that I had nev­er devi­at­ed from the truth in the mat­ter, and as I sup­posed was admit­ted by him­self.” (Let­ter writ­ten by Oliv­er Cow­dery and record­ed by his broth­er War­ren Cow­dery; see pho­to­graph in The Mor­mon King­dom, vol. 1, page 27.)

On April 12, 1838, Oliv­er was excom­mu­ni­cat­ed, in part, for “seek­ing to destroy the char­ac­ter of Pres­i­dent Joseph Smith Jr. by false­ly insin­u­at­ing that he was guilty of adul­tery.” (Can­non and Cook, Far West Record, 162–63.)

6. Polygamy Prac­ticed Long Before Alleged Rev­e­la­tion: Long before the offi­cial record­ing of D&C 132, Joseph Smith had already mar­ried mul­ti­ple wives. His first plur­al wife was Fan­ny Alger, whom he mar­ried dur­ing the time when the Church was in Kirt­land. Some his­to­ri­ans record the date of Joseph’s first mar­riage as ear­ly as 1833, while oth­ers believe it was 1835. “Since Fan­ny moved out of the Smith home soon after the mar­riage, it evi­dent­ly took place around 1835, the year when Fan­ny turned nine­teen.” (The Prophet Joseph Smith and His Plur­al Wives, Richard Lloyd Ander­son & Scott H. Faulring, FARMS, 1998.) Only after Cow­dery dis­cov­ered Joseph’s rela­tion­ship with Fan­ny did Joseph first begin to secret­ly insti­tute the “doc­trine” of plur­al mar­riage. Nonethe­less, there is no evi­dence that Joseph dis­cussed plur­al mar­riage with a sin­gle indi­vid­ual until after his rela­tion­ship with Fan­ny Alger was dis­cov­ered. The fact that Joseph only began dis­cussing plur­al mar­riage after his rela­tion­ship with Fan­ny was exposed sug­gests that the sub­se­quent “rev­e­la­tion” was an attempt to jus­ti­fy his adultery.

7. Ear­ly Unions were Not Sanc­tioned under God’s Laws: Whether Joseph’s mar­riage to Fan­ny Alger occurred in 1833 or 1835, it was ille­gal both under the laws of the land[2] and under any the­o­ry of divine author­i­ty. With respect to divine author­i­ty, plur­al mar­riages are root­ed in the notion of “seal­ing” for both time and eter­ni­ty. The “seal­ing” pow­er was not restored under LDS belief until April 1836 when Eli­jah appeared to Joseph and con­ferred the seal­ing keys upon him. There is no dis­pute among Lat­ter-day Saints that, pri­or to 1836, the seal­ing pow­er had not been on the earth since the time the Lord had removed it dur­ing the Great Apos­ta­sy. Thus, Joseph’s “mar­riage” to Fan­ny Alger could not have been per­formed by any­one with the “seal­ing pow­er.” No one on earth had author­i­ty either under the laws of man or under the laws of God as under­stood and taught by the LDS Church to “mar­ry” Joseph and Fan­ny. As a result, his mar­riage to her was a nul­li­ty from the begin­ning both in time and eter­ni­ty, and any sex­u­al rela­tion­ship he may have had with her (and to which Cow­dery attest­ed) can only be described as adulterous.

8. Polygamy Con­demned by Rev­e­la­tion: The first edi­tion of the Doc­trine and Covenants (1835) includ­ed a sec­tion deny­ing any prac­tice of polygamy:

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 the case of death, when either is at lib­er­ty to mar­ry again.” (His­to­ry of the Church, Vol. 2, p. 247)

It is inter­est­ing to note that the fore­go­ing pro­vi­sion was con­tained in every edi­tion of the Doc­trine and Covenants until 1876, when the Doc­trine and Covenants was revised to include Sec­tion 132, which autho­rizes plur­al mar­riage. Obvi­ous­ly, it would have been too con­tra­dic­to­ry to have one sec­tion con­demn­ing polygamy and anoth­er approv­ing of it in the same book. There­fore, the sec­tion con­demn­ing polygamy was removed from the Doc­trine and Covenants.

Sig­nif­i­cant­ly, Joseph Smith was already a polyg­a­mist at the time the 1835 edi­tion of the Doc­trine and Covenants was pub­lished (which specif­i­cal­ly for­bade polygamy). More­over, Joseph pub­licly taught monogamy. Joseph, how­ev­er, con­tin­ued to secret­ly mar­ry women as the above ref­er­enced rev­e­la­tion remained in force.

9. Joseph Was Coer­cive in his Mar­riage Pro­pos­als: Mul­ti­ple women tes­ti­fied that Joseph’s mar­riage pro­pos­als includ­ed a promise that, if they agreed to mar­ry Joseph, their entire fam­i­ly would receive exal­ta­tion. More dis­turbing­ly, Joseph told at least three women (Zina Hunt­ing­ton, Almera Woodard John­son, Mary Light­ner) that he would be slain by an angel with a drawn sword if they did not agree to mar­ry him.

10. Helen Mar Kim­ball (Joseph Smith’s 14-Year-Old Wife): Study­ing the actu­al prac­tice of polygamy is per­haps even more dis­turb­ing when each mar­riage is specif­i­cal­ly ana­lyzed. For exam­ple, Joseph seemed to engage in coer­cive tac­tics in mar­ry­ing at least some of his wives, includ­ing 14-year-old Helen Mar Kim­ball. The fol­low­ing is an excerpt from her journal:

With­out any pre­lim­i­nar­ies, my father asked me if I would believe him if he told me that it was right for mar­ried men to take oth­er wives.
“The first impulse was anger… My sen­si­bil­i­ties were painful­ly touched. I felt such a sense of per­son­al injury and dis­plea­sure; for to men­tion such a thing to me I thought alto­geth­er unwor­thy of my father, and as quick he spoke, I replied to him, short and emphat­i­cal­ly, NO I WOULDN’T! This is the first time that I ever open­ly man­i­fest­ed anger towards him.

“Hav­ing a great desire to be con­nect­ed with the Prophet, Joseph, he (my father) 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 altar: how cru­el this seemed to my moth­er whose heart­strings were already stretched until they were ready to snap asun­der, for she had already tak­en Sarah Noon to wife [after Heber began prac­tic­ing polygamy] and she thought she had made suf­fi­cient sac­ri­fice but the Lord required more.”

Although Helen was ini­tial­ly repulsed by the thought of mar­ry­ing Joseph Smith, a much old­er and mar­ried man, she reluc­tant­ly agreed when Joseph the prophet offered her and her entire fam­i­ly eter­nal sal­va­tion and exal­ta­tion if she would become one of his wives.

[The next morn­ing, Joseph Smith vis­it­ed Helen and explained] the prin­ci­ple of Celes­tial mar­riage… After which he said to me, ‘If you will take this step, it will ensure your eter­nal sal­va­tion & exal­ta­tion and 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 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 … ; but it was all hid­den from me.” (Helen Mar Whit­ney Jour­nal, Helen Mar Auto­bi­og­ra­phy, Wom­an’s Expo­nent, 1880 and recent­ly reprint­ed in A Wom­an’s View).

After mar­ry­ing Joseph Smith, Helen indi­cat­ed that she was deceived as to what the polyg­a­mous rela­tion­ship would entail. 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.)

11. Sex: The Church’s polygamy essay acknowl­edges that Joseph like­ly had sex with his polyg­a­mist wives. In fact, the essay states that the pri­ma­ry pur­pose of plur­al mar­riage was “to raise up seed unto God,” which obvi­ous­ly requires sex­u­al inter­course. Some church his­to­ri­ans, like Richard Bush­man, and FAIR, an LDS apolo­getic orga­ni­za­tion, admit that Joseph’s mar­riages includ­ed mar­i­tal rela­tions. Con­sid­er the fol­low­ing state­ments from Joseph’s polyg­a­mist wives and oth­er Church leaders:

  • Sylvia Ses­sions (Lyon): Sylvia Ses­sions (Lyon), on her deathbed, told her daugh­ter, Josephine, that she (Josephine) was the daugh­ter of Joseph Smith. Josephine tes­ti­fied: “She (Sylvia) then told me that I was the daugh­ter of the Prophet Joseph Smith, she hav­ing been sealed to the Prophet at the time that her hus­band Mr. Lyon was out of fel­low­ship with the Church.” (Affi­davit to Church His­to­ri­an Andrew Jen­son, 24 Feb. 1915)
  • Mary Eliz­a­beth Rollins Light­ner: In her tes­ti­mo­ny giv­en at a BYU devo­tion­al, Mary Eliz­a­beth Rollins Light­ner (and wife of Joseph Smith) stat­ed that she knew of chil­dren born to Smith’s plur­al wives: “I know he [Joseph Smith] had six wives and I have known some of them from child­hood up. I know 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.”
  • Pre­scindia D. Hunt­ing­ton: Pre­scindia D. Hunt­ing­ton, who was Nor­mal Buel­l’s wife and simul­ta­ne­ous­ly a “plur­al wife” to Joseph Smith, said that she did not know whether her hus­band Nor­man “or the Prophet was the father of her son, Oliv­er.” (Mary Ettie V. Smith, Fif­teen Years Among the Mor­mons, page 34.)
  • Melis­sa Lott: Melis­sa Lott (Smith Willes) tes­ti­fied that she had been Joseph’s wife ‘in very deed.’ (Affi­davit of Melis­sa Willes, 3 Aug. 1893, Tem­ple Lot case, 98, 105; Fos­ter, Reli­gion and Sex­u­al­i­ty, p. 156.)
  • Louisa Bea­man: In a court affi­davit, faith­ful Mor­mon Joseph Noble wrote that Joseph told him he had spent the night with Louisa Bea­man. (Tem­ple Lot Case, p. 427)
  • Emi­ly D. Par­tridge: Emi­ly D. Par­tridge (Smith Young) said she ‘roomed’ with Joseph the night fol­low­ing her mar­riage to him and said that she had ‘car­nal inter­course’ with him. (Tem­ple Lot case, (com­plete tran­script), pp. 364, 367, 384; see Fos­ter, ‘Reli­gion and Sex­u­al­i­ty,’ p. 15.)
  • Eliza Par­tridge: William Clay­ton, Joseph Smith’s per­son­al sec­re­tary, record­ed that on May 22, 1843, Emma found Joseph and Eliza Par­tridge seclud­ed in an upstairs bed­room at the Smith home. Accord­ing to the account, Emma was dev­as­tat­ed. (William Clay­ton’s jour­nal entry May 23, 1843; see Smith, pp. 105–106.)
  • Almera John­son: William Clay­ton also record­ed one of Joseph’s vis­its to Almera John­son on May 16, 1843: “Prest. Joseph and I went to B[enjamin] F. John­son’s to sleep.” John­son him­self lat­er not­ed that on this vis­it Joseph stayed with Almera “as man and wife” and “occu­pied the same room and bed with my sis­ter, that the pre­vi­ous month he had occu­pied with the daugh­ter of the late Bish­op Par­tridge as his wife.” Almera John­son also con­firmed her secret mar­riage to Joseph Smith: “I lived with the prophet Joseph as his wife and he vis­it­ed me at the home of my broth­er Ben­jamin F.” (Zim­mer­man, I Knew the Prophets, p. 44; see also The Ori­gin of Plur­al Mar­riage, Joseph F. Smith, Jr., Deseret News Press, pp. 70–71.)
  • Ben­jamin Win­ches­ter: “It was a sub­ject of com­mon talk among many good peo­ple in Nau­voo that many of the elders were sent off on mis­sions mere­ly to get them out of the way, and that Joseph Smith, John C. Ben­nett and oth­er promi­nent Church lights had illic­it inter­course with the wives of a num­ber of the mis­sion­ar­ies, and that the rev­e­la­tion on spir­i­tu­al mar­riage, i.e. polygamy, was got­ten up to pro­tect them­selves from scan­dal.” (Ben­jamin Win­ches­ter, Stake Pres­i­dent of the ear­ly church in the 1830s and 1840s.)
  • Poten­tial Chil­dren: LDS apol­o­gist Bri­an Hales, who is cit­ed to in the foot­notes of the Church’s polygamy essay, acknowl­edges that Joseph Smith fathered two to three chil­dren with his plur­al wives. He stat­ed that it is high­ly prob­a­ble that Josephine Lyon (b. Feb. 8, 1844) was Joseph Smith’s child with Sylvia Lyon, and that Joseph like­ly fathered a child with Olive Gray Frost.

12. Joseph Repeat­ed­ly Lied About Polygamy: The Church’s polygamy essay acknowl­edges that Joseph Smith and sub­se­quent lead­ers lied about polygamy, both to Church mem­bers and to out­siders. Smith first began lying to his first wife, Emma. Church lead­ers report­ed­ly believed that the lying was jus­ti­fied because they were “lying for the Lord.” There are scores of doc­u­ments that sup­port this – from inter­views, Church news­pa­per arti­cles, prophets’ let­ters, ser­mons, etc. For example:

  • In 1844, Joseph preached a ser­mon and said, “I had not been mar­ried scarce­ly five min­utes and made one procla­ma­tion of the gospel before it was report­ed that I had sev­en wives. What a thing it is for a man to be accused of com­mit­ting adul­tery and hav­ing sev­en wives when I can only find one.” (Joseph Smith, His­to­ry of the Church, Vol. 6, Chap­ter 19, p. 410–11.) At the time he made this state­ment, Joseph had over 30 polyg­a­mous wives.
  • In the July 1838 edi­tion of the Elder’s Jour­nal (“Edit­ed by Joseph Smith”), which was pub­lished three-to-five years after he began prac­tic­ing polygamy, Joseph answered ques­tions includ­ing the following:
    “Ques­tion 7th: Do the Mor­mons believe in hav­ing more wives than one?
    “Answer: No, not at the same time.…” (Elders Jour­nal, Vol 1, No. 3, p. 43; reprint­ed in His­to­ry of the Church Vol 3, p. 38.)
  • On Decem­ber 16, 1838, Joseph Smith wrote a let­ter to the Church from Lib­er­ty Jail, which stat­ed: “We have heard that it is report­ed by some, that some of us should have said, that we not only ded­i­cat­ed our prop­er­ty, but our fam­i­lies also to the Lord; and Satan, tak­ing advan­tage of this, has per­vert­ed it into licen­tious­ness, such as a com­mu­ni­ty of wives, which is an abom­i­na­tion in the sight of God.” (His­to­ry of the Church, Vol. 3, p. 23.)
  • On Feb­ru­ary 21, 1843, in a speech before the Ladies’ Relief Soci­ety – where­in many of his “plur­al wives” were in atten­dance – Joseph denounced the prac­tice of polygamy.
  • In an attempt to abate rumors of his secret polygamy, Joseph con­vinced 31 indi­vid­u­als to sign an affi­davit pub­lished in the Octo­ber 1, 1842 Times and Sea­sons stat­ing that Joseph did not prac­tice polygamy. These indi­vid­u­als claimed the fol­low­ing: “[W]e know of no oth­er rule or sys­tem of mar­riage than the one pub­lished in the Book of Doc­trine and Covenants” (which, at the time, for­bade polygamy). The prob­lem with this affi­davit is that it was signed by sev­er­al peo­ple who were secret polyg­a­mists and/or who knew that Joseph was a polyg­a­mist at the time they signed the affi­davit. In fact, Eliza R. Snow, one of the sign­ers of this affi­davit, was one of Joseph Smith’s plur­al wives. Joseph and Eliza were mar­ried three months ear­li­er on June 29, 1842. Two Apos­tles and future prophets, John Tay­lor and Wil­ford Woodruff, were aware of Joseph’s polygamy behind the scenes when they signed the affi­davit. Anoth­er sign­er, Bish­op Whit­ney, had per­son­al­ly mar­ried his daugh­ter Sarah Ann Whit­ney to Joseph as a plur­al wife a few months ear­li­er on July 27, 1842; Whitney’s wife and Sarah’s moth­er Eliz­a­beth (also a sign­er) wit­nessed the ceremony.

What does it say about Joseph Smith and his char­ac­ter that he con­vinced a plur­al wife and numer­ous friends (who knew about his secret polygamy/polyandry) to lie and per­jure them­selves in a sworn pub­lic affidavit?

The secre­cy of the mar­riages and Joseph’s pri­vate and pub­lic denials are not con­gru­ent with hon­est behav­ior. Emma was unaware of most of these mar­riages. Most church mem­bers did not know what was going on behind the scenes as polygamy did not become com­mon knowl­edge until 1852 when Brigham Young revealed it in Utah. Joseph Smith did every­thing he could to keep the prac­tice in the dark. In fact, Joseph’s desire to keep this part of his life a secret is what ulti­mate­ly con­tributed to his death when he ordered the destruc­tion of the print­ing press (Nau­voo Expos­i­tor) that exposed his behav­ior in June 1844. This event ini­ti­at­ed a chain of events that led to Carthage.

13. Joseph Mar­ried Many Women with­out Emma’s Knowl­edge: D&C 132: 61 (the rev­e­la­tion on polygamy) states that men engag­ing in polygamy should obtain the con­sent of their first wife. Joseph Smith, how­ev­er, did not fol­low the rules of his own rev­e­la­tion, as he took plur­al wives with­out seek­ing con­sent. Emi­ly Dow Par­tridge, for instance, tes­ti­fied that she and her sis­ter were mar­ried to Joseph with­out Emma’s consent:

[T]he Prophet Joseph and his wife Emma offered us a home in their fam­i­ly, … 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. Two months after­ward she con­sent­ed to give her hus­band two wives, pro­vid­ing he would give her the priv­i­lege of choos­ing them. She accord­ing­ly chose my sis­ter Eliza and myself, and to save fam­i­ly trou­ble Broth­er Joseph thought it best to have anoth­er cer­e­mo­ny per­formed. Accord­ing­ly on the 11th of May, 1843, we were sealed to Joseph Smith a sec­ond time, in Emma’s pres­ence, … From that very hour, how­ev­er, Emma was our bit­ter ene­my. We remained in the fam­i­ly sev­er­al months after this, but things went from bad to worse until we were oblig­at­ed to leave the house and find anoth­er home.” (His­tor­i­cal Record, vol. 6, page 240)

Notice how Joseph sought to cov­er up the fact that he was already mar­ried to Eliza and Emi­ly Par­tridge. Joseph had a sec­ond, sham mar­riage per­formed to the Par­tridge sis­ters after his first wife, Emma, agreed that he could mar­ry two women if she got to pick them (and she hap­pened to pick two women that were already mar­ried to Joseph).

14. Bogus Jus­ti­fi­ca­tions: One com­mon jus­ti­fi­ca­tion that many Church mem­bers offer for polygamy was that there was a short­age of men at the time polygamy was prac­ticed, and the women need­ed hus­bands in the harsh West to sur­vive. Eco­nom­ic pres­sures on women, how­ev­er, did not dri­ve polygamy. Pop­u­la­tion sta­tis­tics for Utah show that there were actu­al­ly more men than women.

Year Male Female
1850 6,020 5,310
1860 20,178 19,947
1870 43,451 42,503
1880 73,477 68,946
1890 108,943 96,982
1900 138,923 133,542

LDS Apos­tle John A. Wid­stoe denied that polygamy had any­thing to do with a “short­age of men.”

The implied assump­tion in this the­o­ry, that there have been more female than male mem­bers in the Church is not sup­port­ed by exist­ing evi­dence. On the con­trary, there seems always to have been more males than females in the Church… The Unit­ed States cen­sus records from 1850 to 1940, and all avail­able Church records, uni­form­ly show a pre­pon­der­ance of males in Utah… This the­o­ry is not defen­si­ble since there was no sur­plus of women.” (Evi­dences and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tions, 1960, pages 390–392.)

The Church’s 2014 polygamy essay states that the pri­ma­ry pur­pose of plur­al mar­riage was “to raise up seed unto God.” This seems to be a strange, if not inde­fen­si­ble, expla­na­tion. A woman can pre­sum­ably have far more chil­dren (to say noth­ing of emo­tion­al sup­port) if she is mar­ried to one hus­band rather than shar­ing her hus­band with many women. Brigham Young, for exam­ple, had at least 55 chil­dren by 29 wives; had those wives not all shared Brigham Young as a hus­band they like­ly would have pro­duced far more than 55 chil­dren. The only con­ceiv­able way polygamy could pro­duce more chil­dren than through a tra­di­tion­al mar­riage would be if there was a short­age of men. How­ev­er, cen­sus records show that there were always more men than women in both Kirt­land and Utah dur­ing the rel­e­vant time periods.

Addi­tion­al­ly, the Church’s 2014 essay sug­gests that plur­al mar­riage was com­mand­ed by God in Old Tes­ta­ment times and that Joseph’s intro­duc­tion of polygamy was a “restora­tion of the bib­li­cal prac­tice.” The only scrip­tur­al ref­er­ence pro­vid­ed in the essay in sup­port of this asser­tion is Gen­e­sis 16: 1–3. The cit­ed pas­sage, how­ev­er, nev­er states or even implies that God com­mand­ed Abra­ham (or any­one else for that mat­ter) to prac­tice polygamy. Rather, the scrip­ture states that because Sarah could not bear chil­dren, Sarah told Abra­ham to take her hand­maid­en, Hagar, so that Hagar would bear him chil­dren. Sim­ply stat­ed, there is no bib­li­cal evi­dence sug­gest­ing that God has ever com­mand­ed or sanc­tioned polyg­a­mist unions.

15. Joseph Vio­lat­ed Revealed Rules Gov­ern­ing Polygamy: Doc­trine & Covenants 132 sets forth a num­ber of rules and details gov­ern­ing the prac­tice of polygamy. For exam­ple, the D&C 132 only allows polygamy under the fol­low­ing cir­cum­stances: plur­al wives must be vir­gins at the time of the union and the man must give his first wife the oppor­tu­ni­ty to con­sent to the union. If the first wife does not con­sent, she will be “destroyed.” Also, the new wife (who must be a vir­gin) must be com­plete­ly monog­a­mous after the mar­riage or she will be destroyed (D&C 132: 41 & 63). Joseph did not fol­low these rules, as evi­denced by the fol­low­ing summary:

  • Joseph mar­ried 11 women who were already mar­ried to oth­er men. Clear­ly, they were not vir­gins as required by the Doc­trine and Covenants. D&C 132:63 clear­ly states that the only pur­pose of polygamy is to “mul­ti­ply and replen­ish the earth” and “bear the souls of men.” Why did Joseph mar­ry women who were already mar­ried? These women were obvi­ous­ly not vir­gins, which vio­lat­ed D&C 132. Zina Hunt­ing­ton had been mar­ried sev­en-and-a-half months and was six months preg­nant with her first husband’s baby at the time she mar­ried Joseph; clear­ly she didn’t need any more help to “bear the souls of men.”
  • Joseph’s polyg­a­mist wives con­tin­ued to live as hus­band and wife with their pri­or hus­band after mar­ry­ing Joseph, demon­strat­ing they were not monog­a­mous with Joseph. How­ev­er, D&C 132:63 states that if the new wives are with anoth­er man after the polyg­a­mous mar­riage, they will be destroyed. Eleven of Joseph’s wives lived with their pri­or hus­bands after mar­ry­ing Joseph Smith. Why weren’t they “destroyed”?
  • Joseph did not ask for Emma’s con­sent pri­or to tak­ing most of his plur­al wives as required by Doc­trine and Covenants.

In sum­ma­ry, Joseph’s polygamy included:

  • Unions with teenagers as young as 14
  • Unions with­out Emma’s knowl­edge or consent;
  • Unions with­out the knowl­edge or con­sent of the hus­band (in cas­es of polyandry);
  • A union with Apos­tle Orson Hyde’s wife while he was on a mis­sion (Marin­da Hyde);
  • A union with a new­ly­wed and preg­nant woman (Zina Huntingon);
  • Promis­es of sal­va­tion for the woman’s entire family;
  • Threats that Joseph would be slain by an angel with a drawn sword if the woman did not mar­ry him (Zina Hunt­ing­ton, Almera Woodard John­son, Mary Lightner);
  • Threats of loss of sal­va­tion if the woman did not agree to mar­ry him;
  • Dis­hon­esty in pub­lic ser­mons, denials by Joseph that he was a polyg­a­mist, Joseph’s destruc­tion of the Nau­voo Expos­i­tor that exposed his polygamy;
  • Mar­riages to young women liv­ing in Joseph’s home as fos­ter daugh­ters (Lawrence sis­ters, Par­tridge sis­ters, Fan­ny Alger, Lucy Walker);
  • Joseph’s mar­riage to Fan­ny Alger was described by his cousin, Oliv­er Cow­dery, as a “dirty, nasty, filthy affair” (Richard Bush­man, Rough Stone Rolling, p.323);
  • Joseph prac­ticed polygamy before the seal­ing author­i­ty was giv­en. LDS his­to­ri­an, Richard Bush­man, said “There is evi­dence that Joseph was a polyg­a­mist by 1835.” (Rough Stone Rolling, p.323.)

16. Evi­dence of Joseph’s Immoral Pro­pos­al to Jane Law: Grant Palmer pub­lished an essay in 2012 detail­ing the rea­sons William and Jane Law left the Church in 1844. At the time of their defec­tion, William Law was sec­ond coun­selor in the First Pres­i­den­cy. The fol­low­ing is a mod­i­fied and revised excerpt of the arti­cle, which depicts a cor­rob­o­rat­ed account of at least one of Joseph Smith’s immoral pro­pos­als. Here is a link to the unmod­i­fied, ful­ly-sourced arti­cle.

Excerpt: It is well doc­u­ment­ed that Joseph Smith took at least 33 plur­al wives. By 1843. Emma Smith was not hap­py in her mar­riage with Joseph. William Clay­ton, Smith’s per­son­al sec­re­tary, record­ed a con­ver­sa­tion in his jour­nal on this date that Joseph Smith had with his wife: “[Joseph Smith] knew [Emma] was dis­posed to be revenged on him for some things. She thought that if he would indulge him­self she would too.” Joseph Jack­son sup­port­ed William Clay­ton’s account. Jack­son said that Joseph told him: “Emma want­ed [William] Law for a spir­i­tu­al hus­band, and she urged as a rea­son that as he had so many spir­i­tu­al wives, she thought it but fair that she should at least have one man … and that she want­ed Law, because he was such a ‘sweet lit­tle man.’ ”

Between June 23 and July 11, 1843, Joseph Smith received a … rev­e­la­tion: “A com­mand­ment I give unto my hand­maid­en, Emma Smith … which I com­mand­ed you [Joseph] to offer unto her” (D&C 132: 51). William Law, Smith’s coun­selor in the first pres­i­den­cy, described the con­tent of this “offer”-revelation that Smith used to appease Emma. Law wrote: “Joseph offered to fur­nish his wife, Emma, with a sub­sti­tute for him, by way of com­pen­sa­tion for his neglect of her, on con­di­tion that she would for­ev­er stop her oppo­si­tion to polygamy and per­mit him to enjoy his young wives in peace and keep some of them in her [man­sion] house and to be well treat­ed, etc.”

While Joseph and Emma Smith agreed to this sex­u­al offer, William and Jane Law did not. Jack­son, con­tin­u­ing with his nar­ra­tive said that “He [Joseph] and Emma had both tried to per­suade her [Jane Law] of the cor­rect­ness of the doc­trine, but that she would not believe it to be of God.” With the Laws hav­ing reject­ed the offer, Joseph Smith received D&C 132, on July 12, 1843. Vers­es 51–52, 54, now instruct Emma:

That she stay her­self and par­take not of that which I com­mand­ed you to offer unto her; for I did it, saith the Lord, to prove you all, as I did Abra­ham .… Let my hand­maid, Emma Smith, receive all those that have been giv­en unto my ser­vant Joseph .… 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.

William Law record­ed Joseph and Emma’s com­ments on these vers­es: “[Joseph] thought the rev­e­la­tion would cause [Emma] to sub­mit peace­ful­ly, as it threat­ened her removal if she did not.” Emma con­fid­ed to Law that the rev­e­la­tion, which she did not believe, was a “threat against her life,” if she did not com­ply. Law said that Emma, “Spoke repeat­ed­ly about that pre­tend­ed rev­e­la­tion … [and] says[,] ‘I must sub­mit or be destroyed. Well, I guess I have to sub­mit.’ ” Emma sub­mit­ted to Joseph’s instruc­tion, but Joseph con­tin­ued his pro­pos­als to sin­gle and mar­ried women until Decem­ber of 1843, includ­ing Jane Law.

Sev­er­al months lat­er, prob­a­bly dur­ing Novem­ber-Decem­ber, Joseph made a play for the “attrac­tive” 30-year-old Jane Law. William wrote in his diary on May 13, 1844, that, “He [Smith] had late­ly endeav­ored to seduce my wife, and had found her a vir­tu­ous woman.” Alexan­der Neibaur, a close friend of Joseph Smith, record­ed: “When Mr[.] Law came home [one evening,] he Inquired who had been in his Absence. She said no one but Br Joseph. He then demand­ed what had pass[ed.] Mrs[.] L[aw] then told [him] that Joseph want­ed her to be Mar­ried to him.”

Joseph Jack­son said much the same when he wrote: “Short­ly after the … (15th of Jan, 1844) that Jo[s]e[ph] informed me in con­ver­sa­tion, that he had been endeav­or­ing for some two months, to get Mrs. William Law for a spir­i­tu­al [polyg­a­mist] wife. He said that he had used every argu­ment in his pow­er to con­vince her of the cor­rect­ness of his doc­trine, but could not suc­ceed.” Smith shared this infor­ma­tion, accord­ing to Jack­son, because Smith want­ed Law “removed.” Jack­son said that short­ly after Jan­u­ary 15th:

One Sun­day morn­ing, Jo[s]e[ph] and I had a long talk con­cern­ing Law, in which he avowed, not for the first time, how­ev­er, his deter­mi­na­tion to put Law out of the way, for he had become dan­ger­ous to the church of Jesus Christ of Lat­ter Day Saints, and that it was the will of God that he should be removed. He, how­ev­er, wished to pro­ceed in such a man­ner that he would be able to get Law’s wife.

By Jan­u­ary 1, 1844, it is clear from William’s diary that the Laws have reject­ed Smith’s pro­pos­al. On Jan­u­ary 8th, Law is dropped as a coun­selor in the First Pres­i­den­cy and on April 18th, the Laws were excom­mu­ni­cat­ed from the church.

  1. All Polyg­a­mist Unions were Ille­gal: Polygamy was ille­gal in the Unit­ed States at all times when the Church engaged in the prac­tice. The Illi­nois anti-bigamy law, enact­ed Feb­ru­ary 12, 1833, clear­ly stat­ed that polygamy was ille­gal. Polygamy was also ille­gal in Ohio and Mis­souri when Joseph took some of his plur­al wives. Polygamy was also ille­gal in Utah dur­ing the peri­od at issue. Final­ly, polygamy was ille­gal under fed­er­al law. Believ­ing that the rev­e­la­tions of God took prece­dence over the laws of men, Mor­mons ignored fed­er­al and state laws. These men includ­ing First Pres­i­den­cy coun­selor, George Q. Can­non, were impris­oned for prac­tic­ing polygamy. In fact, the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment pub­lished and dis­sem­i­nat­ed want­ed posters and offered an $800 reward to any­one who would arrest the Pres­i­dent of the Church, John Tay­lor, and his first coun­selor, George Q. Can­non.
Series Nav­i­ga­tion: Leav­ing the Church — Eric Nel­son« Leav­ing the Church, Part 7 — Priest­hood Restora­tionLeav­ing the Church, Part 9 — Book of Mor­mon Witnesses »






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Susan Evans
5 years ago

Hi I recent­ly left the church after 43 years. Being a con­vert at 13 years old, where I live in Wales, UK. One night I was search­ing on my kin­dle for a LDS New Tes­ta­ment to study and a book review popped up about Joseph Smith and his polygamy, mar­ry­ing 14 year olds etc. I went in search of oth­er infor­ma­tion, not believ­ing this to be true. But what I found out was even worse. My whole world fell apart, I was dev­as­tat­ed. The things that I had been taught for most of my life were wrong, lies. I began ask­ing ques­tions, that was a big mis­take. When I attend­ed church the Sun­day after, I was shocked when the Bish­opric basi­cal­ly shamed me from the stand, for ask­ing ques­tions. I left and came home cry­ing. I nev­er went back. I told the Bish­op and oth­ers that I had been lied to and I would not be return­ing. To which the bish­op replied, “Your eter­nal wel­fare is at stake”. To which I respond­ed, “that my eter­nal wel­fare is fine thank you”. I also informed mem­bers that no man of God would act like Joseph Smith and also Brigham Young. The Relief Soci­ety Pres­i­dent asked me why I was mak­ing a fuss about polygamy , as i knew it was prac­ticed, to which I replied, “yes I did, but not the way it was prac­ticed, we were nev­er told these things”. Since then I have stud­ied the CES let­ter and many oth­er things, includ­ing this… Read more »

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