excerpt – Nauvoo Polygamy

Nauvoo PolygamyIntroduction

In 1792, Napoleon, then a young soldier in the French army, wrote to his “sweet and incomparable” Josephine of their first night together: “I have awakened full of you. The memory of last night has given my senses no rest … What an effect you have on my heart! I send you thousands of kisses—but don’t kiss me. Your kisses sear my blood.”1 The soldier’s adventures had just begun.

Napoleon Bonaparte went on to conquer Austria, invade Egypt, and in 1804 crown himself Emperor of France. Although Josephine was not the only woman in his life, this alluring Creole from Martinique would marry her new lover and become Empress of France.2

A few decades later on the American frontier, another man of ambition, coincidentally inspired by what Napoleon had found in Egypt, wrote his own letter to a young woman. It was the summer of 1842 and the thirty-six-year-old prophet, Joseph Smith, hiding from the law down by the Mississippi River in Illinois, proposed a tryst with the appealing seventeen-year-old, Sarah Ann Whitney. “My feelings are so strong for you,” he wrote. “Come and see me in this my lonely retreat … now is the time to afford me succour … I have a room intirely by myself, the whole matter can be attended to with most perfect saf[e]ty, I know it is the will of God that you should comfort me.”3 Three weeks prior to this letter, Sarah Ann had secretly married the self-proclaimed seer and leader of the millennialist Latter-day Saints to become his fifteenth wife.

Historically, it has not been so unusual for the leader of a country or founder of a religion to take an interest in more than one woman. What was unusual in this instance was the further step Smith took, turning a predilection into a Christian obligation, institutionalizing polygamy. Curiously enough, the way Joseph did this was through his passion for ancient Egypt, derived from Napoleon’s invasion of that country a few years before Smith’s birth. Just as soulful kisses and succor appeased one desire in each of these two men, so both men had another inner stirring that was awakened by contact with a forgotten civilization. They showed a fascination with ancient Egypt, especially the hieroglyphic writing that was thought to hold the occult secrets of an unrivaled spiritual and temporal world power. The French adventurer’s findings lit a fire in Smith that inspired even the language of his religious prose.

In 1798 Napoleon entered Egypt by way of the Nile. Following centuries of foreign occupation, he found stunning artifacts that at once consumed public attention. The pictographs appeared impossible to read. These enigmatic scripts enchanted Europeans, who decorated museums with them and designed articles of high fashion with Egyptian motifs. In America, towns named Memphis and Cairo emerged along the Mississippi in 1820 and 1837, not far downstream from where the Mormon capital of Nauvoo, Illinois, would be founded in 1839. It took the linguist Jean-François Champollion (1790-1832) more than twenty years to decipher the hieroglyphics inscribed on the Rosetta Stone and re-discover the social and religious life of a lost culture. His Egyptian Grammar, begun in 1835 and completed in 1841, was published posthumously in Paris; his Dictionary, in 1841-44.

Some thirty years after Napoleon unearthed the glyphs that turned out to hold the key to the ancient language, Champollion and other scholars were still hard at work decoding their meaning when Joseph Smith founded a religion based on what he said were his own translations of ancient Egyptian. While the early hieroglyphs were still indecipherable to most of the world, Smith told New York publisher James Arlington Bennett:

The fact is, that by the power of God, I translated the Book of Mormon from hieroglyphics, the knowledge of which was lost to the world, in which wonderful event I stood alone, an unlearned youth, to combat the worldly wisdom and multiplied ignorance of eighteen centuries, with a new revelation, which would open the eyes of more than eight hundred millions of people…God is my right hand man.4

Smith announced that he had found gold tablets buried in a hill, on which an ancient history was inscribed in “reformed Egyptian.”By the power of God, he proclaimed that he was able to translate the hieroglyphics and in 1830 publish the story as the Book of Mormon.5 This book explained the presence of Indians in the Americas, ascribing to them ancestors from ancient Israel, who were nevertheless not the rumored “lost tribes.” A few years later, Smith published a variant of Genesis called the Book of Abraham, which he said was written on papyrus found in the funeral scrolls he purchased in 1835, complete with Egyptian mummies. Little did Napoleon dream that by unearthing the Egyptian past, he would provide the mystery language of a new religion.

It was in the Book of Mormon that the idea of plural marriage was first mentioned in Latter-day Saint references, an ironic source to justify polygamy since it was said to have been withheld from sixth century BCE Hebrew tribes that had wandered to the Americas. Still, a man’s right to have more than one wife would soon become Mormon doctrine, validating the many marriages Joseph had engaged in up to that point—his desire to wed the young Sarah Ann Whitney, for instance. Using Old Testament polygamy as a model, Smith’s new Church of Christ (ultimately renamed the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1838) revived the custom of the ancient patriarchs. The Mormon prophet introduced polygamy to the frontier, where his band of followers was preparing for the imminent “end of days” to descend upon the world.

The American frontier defined the Mormon Church as its members spent twenty years on the run from one state to the next, blazing new trails and founding new cities. As they were expelled by their neighbors from New York to Ohio, then to Missouri, during the 1830s, the homes of friends or converts along the way offered temporary refuge. This is where Smith became acquainted with the young women he would marry a decade later: they were the daughters of friends in the families where he stayed. In Illinois in the 1840s, he was betrothed to teenage women as young as fourteen. He made wedding vows with older women as well. Some of those he married already had husbands and children. However, if loyal to him, the wives and their polyandrous husbands were introduced into an inner circle which formed an aristocratic network of intermarried couples in the elite hierarchy. Beyond his quest for female companionship, Smith utilized plural marriage to create a byzantine structure of relationships intended for successive worlds.

What is also known is that Smith not only persuaded women to marry him, he convinced his closest male followers to expand their own families, adding more wives to their homes. This occurred within the last three years of Smith’s life, ending tragically with an assassin’s bullet after he was arrested for destroying a local press—which incidentally had disclosed the unannounced marriage practice. Over the next year and a half, under the direction of Brigham Young, plural marriages multiplied in Nauvoo so that by the time the Saints abandoned the city in 1846, there were about 200 male polygamists in the church with 700 plural wives added to their families.

Whether Joseph’s wife, Emma, consented to any of these marriages remains a mystery. She was aware of at least five of her husband’s wives whom she sent away from her household, yet she told her children the wives did not exist. Joseph’s family—his mother, wife, and children—refused the leadership of Brigham Young and stayed in the midwest. The founding family remained there, free of polygamy, in a new Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS), established in 1853 and, by 1860, presided over by Joseph III, Joseph and Emma’s oldest surviving son.

From the earliest whisperings of extramarital relationships in the 1830s to official records kept in the 1840s, Mormon authorities downplayed reports of polygamy as “anti-Mormon” rumors. However, an 1852 announcement in Utah led to a period of openness about plural wives. Then the polygamists retreated into the shadows again in 1890 when, for reasons of survival and statehood, the church withdrew its endorsement of plural marriage. Thereafter, the LDS Church in Utah tried to distance itself from its polygamous roots, just as the RLDS Church (recently renamed the Community of Christ) had already done. The two communities became united on one front: their mutual disavowal of a doctrine that was once said to be essential to salvation. Yet the memory of Mormon polygamy was kept alive, in part, by contemporary “fundamentalist” Mormon societies, primarily in Utah. Revulsion against their underage plural marriages today conveys a small sense of what the public outrage might have felt like in Illinois in the 1840s.

Smith’s wives remain unacknowledged in the official History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Even so, these women left their mark on the history of the American west. Aside from the thousands of Mormons who revered and emulated them, their participation in an experiment in a family-oriented society has filled the Mormon consciousness for the better part of two centuries. Similarly, the primary characteristic of Mormons, according to outsiders, besides abstinence from coffee, tea, alcohol, and tobacco, is that the men at one time had multiple wives. However, today, in official Mormon circles, Smith’s granting of favors to chosen followers, allowing them to take extra women into the home, is rarely mentioned.

The primary evidence for this arcane practice comes from diaries, letters, marriage records, and affidavits of those who lived in Nauvoo during the 1840s. The extant records constitute a secret chronicle, an addendum, if you will, to the carefully edited official history, from which any mention of the topic has been expurgated for the early period. After 1890, when polygamy went underground again, it became difficult to access records. Church leaders were less than pleased to find historians or journalists investigating this peculiar relic of the past, which had become an embarrassment and was considered a potential obstacle to missionary efforts. Historical items in the LDS Archives became unavailable to researchers. The cyclical nature of this suppression of information, first in Illinois and later in Utah, left a brief window in Mormon history from which most of the documentation has been recovered. During this period, following migration to the Great Salt Lake and until 1890, people collected oral histories and wrote reminiscences. The rest of the nation averted its eyes because its attention was trained on the Civil War and its aftermath. The benign neglect of the Territory of Utah was what Mormons had sought. However, because the history of polygamy in Nauvoo was never officially rewritten, even during the period of openness, Joseph Smith’s initiation of the practice has remained in an historical penumbra to this day.

The story, as pieced together here, begins with Joseph Smith as a teenager in New York State, where he courted and eloped with his first wife, Emma, and published the Book of Mormon, which mentioned the possibility of polygamy. The topic was already on Joseph’s mind, even in the 1820s. Chapter 1 traces Smith’s “restoration” of biblical Christianity, although drawing as much from the Old Testament as the New. Plural marriage is anticipated: sometime before Smith met and courted his “celestial wives.” The next chapter examines his initial marriages, beginning with Louisa Beaman in 1841. After marrying about sixteen wives by mid-1842, internal dissent drew Smith’s actions into question, and plural weddings ceased during the summer and fall of 1842.

Chapter 3 details the resumption of polygamy after a six-month pause, culminating in the summer of 1843 when Joseph was ready to dictate the revelation which sanctioned plural marriages and required this practice for families intent on securing a place in heaven. In chapter 4, Joseph shares the “favor” of celestial marriage with dozens of other men in the community.

Chapter 5 tracks a surge in polygamy involving over thirty families and about two hundred wives, all during Smith’s lifetime. One participant exulted, “I have six wives and am not afraid of another.” After Joseph’s death, the number of plural families swelled to almost two hundred and, after the journey to Utah began in 1846, these same polygamists continued marrying to the point that they had acquired an average of nearly six wives per family. This model became the blueprint for forty years of Utah polygamy.

Chapter 6 illustrates how a household with more than one wife functioned. When was the first wife told of a new courtship and how much was she told? Who determined what household responsibilities each wife would assume? What priorities did Mormon families have? What were the variations of age? How persistent were feelings of jealousy or other hard to reconcile problems?

The next two chapters, 7 and 8, look at the code of silence that prevailed in Nauvoo and how it fared against the inevitability of rumors. The suppressed history of a more or less insignificant river town was preserved through hundreds of extant documents—sources which somehow survived both neglect and contempt so that we are able to know both the facts of the matter and the behind-the-scenes human emotions that played a role in this extraordinary story.

Finally in chapter 9, antecedents to Mormon polygamy are presented from among other, centuries-old “latter-day” millennialists who similarly sought to restore a biblical model of society as they anticipated the end of the world. These predecessors to Mormonism are found in the side currents of Christian Europe, but they place Smith’s innovations within a larger thematic social construct. For instance, three hundred years before the Mormons, a group of fervent Anabaptists in Münster, Germany, strived to restore primitive Christianity on European soil. In fact, descendants of the radical reformers of the sixteenth century settled in colonial America and helped preserve the memory of these older, millennialist offshoots of Protestantism. Through the Enlightenment period, social reformers took up the discussion of polygamy in the context of natural law and saw it as a way of bringing stability to family life. Some of these religious philosophers exported their ideas to America where they sought to create utopian societies.

The legacy of centuries of debate over marriage, which in the sixteenth century centered upon the question of whether marriage was a civil institution or a sacrament, which biblical model was most appropriate, and in the Mormon context, where a man had to be “sealed” to many wives, forms the continued political wrangling over what constitutes marriage. Headlined LDS separatists insist that polygamy is a sanctified form of marriage. This study concludes with some observations on the ambivalence mainstream Mormons exhibit toward a practice that their grandparents considered requisite for heaven. On the one hand, it is an honored history and part of their ancestral heritage; on the other hand, it now warrants harsh condemnation and dismissal from their long-since Americanized church. These events, which arose years ago on the banks of the Mississippi River, are part of an age-old discussion that can be seen as the confluence of two strains of thought: the attempt to adapt religion to human nature and, conversely, the attempt to conform human nature to accepted religious practice.


While editing William Clayton’s journals, I came across his record of Joseph Smith’s “celestial wives” in Nauvoo, Illinois, which raised questions about the extent of polygamy in this early “latter-day” community. An account of Smith’s wives and the wives he allowed his inner circle of friends—about 160 polygamous husbands and wives, rising to about 900 by 1846s—had not yet been published when I subsequently searched polygamy references in the New York Public Library. The library mentioned not only Mormon polygamy and a range of American millennialist and utopian societies, it confirmed and delineated various marital practices, debated back through earlier centuries in different parts of the world.

Before polygamy was a Mormon template, the seventeenth-century English poet John Milton (known for his portrayal of Adam and Eve in Paradise Lost) advocated the practice in an unpublished essay that was rediscovered and reviewed in America in 1826. The review appeared the year before Joseph Smith began dictating to his newlywed wife, Emma, a text that would mention polygamy and become a scripture for a church he would soon found. The New York Public Library also provided the perspective of sixteenth-century “latter day saints” in Münster, Germany, where radical Christians formed a polygamous biblical community to await the end of the world.

In 1994 I visited the Stadtmuseum in Münster which displayed images of the Dutch Anabaptist prophet Jan van Leyden, assembled with his several “queens” for dinner. Among the German historians who directed me toward analyses of the Münster Anabaptist community were Dr. Karl-Heinz Kirchhoff, known for his ground-breaking source-critical examination of the 1534-35 experience, and Dr. Gerd Dethlefs of the Stadtmuseum. Dr. Dethlefs confirmed that the Münster Anabaptists imitated biblical models as they legitimized themselves as chosen of God and sought to remedy contemporary social problems of unmarried women by reenacting polygamous practices described in the Bible. Dethlefs highlighted primary source tracts from sixteenth-century Anabaptist preacher Bernhard Rothmann in Robert Stupperich, ed., Die Schriften Bernhard Rothmanns. Among other valuable sources were Ralf Klötzer, Täuferherrschaft von Münster, and Günther Bauer, Anfänge täuferischer Gemeindebildungen in Franken. Also important were Dr. Ernst Laubach’s writings (Historisches Seminar, Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität in Münster), as well as George Huntston Williams’s Radical Reformation, Cornelius Krahn’s Dutch Anabaptism, and James M. Stayer’s Vielweiberei.

Of invaluable assistance in translating many of the above texts and in facilitating my correspondence with German scholars was Professor of German Henry Lee Miner (University of Evansville, Indiana). I also benefitted from the perusal of some German sources by Ron Priddis, not to mention his careful reading of the manuscript.

Along with New York and Münster, the University of California at Berkeley was a key source of European interest in polygamy. The Graduate Theological Union at the university houses the Mennonite Quarterly Review, which reflected the long Anabaptist effort at historical rediscovery. Other volumes defined the Beichtrat Protestant reformers granted Landgrave Philip of Hesse, who, like England’s Henry VIII, wanted official permission to marry a second wife.

The Bancroft Library at Berkeley has an important Mormon collection which documents the American west and polygamy in Utah. Special thanks to Bancroft Director Charles B. Faulhaber, who guided me to Egyptian and Mormon source documents as well as read and helped to edit the manuscript. Berkeley’s Doe Library has important sources which reflect centuries of marital debate in Europe concerning canon and natural law.

The primary records of Mormon polygamy are centered in and around Salt Lake City, Utah. The LDS Church Archives and Library in Salt Lake, administered by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, contain letters, diaries, journals, and autobiographical reflections of key participants and eyewitnesses to celestial marriage as it unfolded in the 1840s along the banks of the Mississippi River in Nauvoo, Illinois. Thanks are due to a highly professional team of archivists led by H. Randall Dixon,William Slaughter, and Ronald Watt, among others. Collections at the Utah State Historical Society, the University of Utah Marriott Library, the Harold B. Lee Library at Brigham Young University (Provo) and the library at Utah State University (Logan) are important sources. I recall the helpful direction of Leonard J. Arrington (now deceased) who served both this university and acted as official LDS Church Historian during a period of expanding scholarly use of Church Archives. Special Collections Librarian Everett L. Cooley (now deceased) is remembered for his service to the University of Utah and for his assistance to me in research and writing efforts; Gregory C.Thompson continues Cooley’s professional tradition at this library.

Important collections are found at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, the Chicago Historical Society, the Illinois State Historical Society, the Beinecke Library at Yale University, and the Community of Christ archives and library in Independence, Missouri.

I am also indebted to Gary James Bergera, Todd Compton, Lavina Fielding Anderson, Peter Boothe Wiley, H. Michael Marquardt, Maria H. Marquez, Peter MacGuinness, Kathy E. Evans, and Camilla M. Smith for reading the manuscript and offering valuable editorial suggestions. Thanks also to Arnold W. Donald and Janet L. Visick for reviewing an early draft of this manuscript, and to Fawn M. Brodie, D. Michael Quinn, Richard S. Van Wagoner, Todd M. Compton, Lawrence Foster, Danel Bachman, Linda K. Newell, and Valeen T. Avery (now deceased) whose early research provoked interest in this story.

Thanks to Robert N. Evans and Jake Evans for data analysis and presentation of the some 200 Nauvoo plural families in Appendix B. Special thanks to Karen Lau for her skilled analysis of verbal and quantitative data which she brought into a coherent whole, applying access and cross-referencing systems to a cascade of historical events which compliment and frame years of research.

The record-keepers of former years should also be acknowledged for reporting contemporary events. Their decisions and labor to record what they witnessed are, of course, essential to our ability to look back into a prior age.

Thanks to Connie Disney for the design, and typesetting of this book; thanks also to Keiko Jones and Jani Fleet for their preparation and copy editing, to Tom Kimball for communications planning, and to Greg Jones for his role in production and distribution.Without the contributions of these many people, this book could not have been completed. However, I alone am responsible for any errors or omissions.

I should also mention how patient my wife and children and friends have been while I have been consumed with this topic.

* * * * *

Chapter Six
How Plural Marriage Worked

“It was whispered … the authorities were getting more wives”

Several themes naturally emerge out of a consideration of the thirty-three Nauvoo plural families and their growth to two hundred by the time of the 1846 exodus:

Discovery and persuasion.When and how did the people in Nauvoo become aware of polygamy? Joseph Smith introduced plural marriage to one individual at a time, yet by 1846, over 1,000 people had adopted the practice. It was at first necessary to convince a critical base in order to launch this community of celestial wives.

Acceptance and rejection. Smith applied considerable pressure on both women and men to conform to this new doctrine. He respected, to a greater or lesser degree, a woman’s decision not to become a plural wife. The men he invited to accept their “privileges” generally acquiesced, sometimes after a delay.

Life in polygamous households. The first wives often helped to choose subsequent spouses, an important contribution in forming a cohesive family. Family connections between “sister wives” (women married to the same man) were important, as were kinship relationships between biological sisters and mother-daughter wives. The arrangement of domestic authority to allocate work and other day-to-day affairs became important considerations. Plural families felt close to one another, but also expressed jealousy and tension.

Secrecy and security. Some plural wives were sent to board with other families. Some of Smith’s wives were housed by his bodyguards. Family networks cooperated to protect the secret of their lives.

The social climate in Nauvoo during Joseph Smith’s years and after his death is relevant in tracing polygamous families. Extant portions of the historical record derive mostly from narratives written down in the late 1860s by people who confided in the deceased prophet’s nephew, Joseph F. Smith, and through often involuntary depositions in the 1892 Temple Lot Case. Efforts to suppress the story of Nauvoo until the 1852 announcement restricted the breadth and depth of the records that were kept, as did the 1890 rescission of the practice. Thereafter, the image of Mormonism was modified through under-representation and denial, which extended into the twenty-first century as the church struggled with its efforts to phase out a practice the prophet had mandated as essential to salvation. Polygamy was no longer a source of religious or community pride, but an embarrassment. The effects of this suppression of evidence and LDS-sponsored historical revisionism will be the focus of chapter 7. Chapter 8 will explore the historiography of reconstructing forgotten Nauvoo events in the face of the redacted official accounts.

Over the five years of Nauvoo polygamy, many people kept first-person records which corroborate their marital relationships in subtle ways. These accounts constitute the core of an eyewitness record of how plural marriage developed in the community. Contemporary diaries and letters indicate who was where at the time and their related preoccupations. Occasional coded references to liaisons and marriages amplify official sealing records from the Nauvoo temple to confirm the veracity of the later apologetics.

Assistant LDS Church Historian Andrew Jenson invited Mary Elizabeth Lightner to join Smith’s other plural wives in 1887 in composing a personal account for Jenson’s periodical, the Historical Record. Plural wife and suffragist Emmeline B.Wells encouraged Lightner, explaining that “Br. Jensen … wants to get interesting biographical sketches and incidents of all those who were sealed to the prophet Joseph Smith.” She referred to the other wives as “Aunt Eliza,” “Aunt Presendia,” and “Aunt Zina.”1 In a follow-up letter, Wells reminded Lightner to include vital statistics, especially (“positively”) regarding her “marriage ceremony to Joseph, on what day, and by whom performed, and who were the witnesses if any.” Taking charge, Wells added that “perhaps you had better direct it to me though it will all be submitted to someone in authority before being published.” She ended with love from Eliza Snow, Helen Mar Kimball, and Lucy Walker Kimball and with this question: “Do you know the particulars about Sister Marinda Hyde’s being sealed to Joseph & on what day or in what year, or who officiated in the ceremony?”2 Wells may have thought the proximity of their marriages to the ceremony involving Marinda, apparently about three months after Mary Elizabeth, would have meant that she would know about it. Such a matter-of-fact exchange illuminates the transition from utmost secrecy to a time of open discussion, when events had become so commonplace that these plural ceremonies were treated as mundane genealogical information.

Discovery and Persuasion

Although a few close friends were aware of Joseph Smith’s ideas about plural marriage in the 1830s, most only learned the rationale and its defense by 1846, when a plethora of new and resolemnized wedding ceremonies were celebrated in the closing weeks of the long awaited Nauvoo temple, just prior to their departure for the West. However, Smith’s own family, his parents and children, somehow remained unexposed to polygamy as a doctrine. Smith neglected to include his parents in these rites, although his mother was inducted into the anointed quorum in 1843. He apparently did not want a second mother. Joseph waited until seven months after his father’s death to introduce polygamy as a formal institution involving a sealing ceremony.

Early in the five years of practice from spring 1841 to winter 1846, most of Nauvoo apparently knew nothing of this. Joseph’s mother may have referred to polygamy when she wrote after his death that someone had “told a tremendous tale which [William] Law believed.”3 It would be hard to imagine that she was entirely unfamiliar with, for instance, John Bennett’s accusations in 1842 or the general substance of the Nauvoo Expositor’s exposé in 1844. Lucy died a decade later in 1856, sixteen years after her husband’s death (the year her son explained polygamy to Joseph Noble and recruited him to perform the first celestial marriage), and four years after Orson Pratt announced plural marriage as a doctrine in Utah (which was a world away from the immediate Smith family in the Midwest). There were members of the extended Smith family in the leadership of the Utah church, with whom the Midwestern Smiths sometimes communicated. Uncle John Smith had become a polygamist in Nauvoo when he was in his mid-sixties. At the other end of the Smith family arc, John’s great-grandson George Albert Smith would be the first monogamist LDS Church president when he ascended to the office a century later, in 1945.

Franklin D. Richards was twenty-two years old and his wife, Jane, twenty-one, when Hyrum Smith divulged the secret of polygamy to him in 1844. Frank and Jane had been married less than two years. She later said she was under the impression that few in the church knew anything about polygamy at the time, also that she and her husband lacked a full understanding of it themselves until the winter of 1845- 46 when most church members were informed of it. That was also when Frank crossed the threshold from belief to action and took the first of eleven plural wives.4

From a privilege to a requirement

In 1842, as the reality shifted from one man with unspoken numbers of wives to a community of polygamists, the practice evolved from a privilege to a required doctrine. Initially, the practice challenged the traditional beliefs of church members about marriage and family. The prophet and his brother Hyrum at first found it difficult to convince men to follow their lead. Even Hyrum for a while dragged his feet, opposing and denying the practice before taking four wives in quick succession in 1843. Like Hyrum, others entered into these covenants but struggled to rationalize the new sexual morality and what they considered an imposition on their own religious sensibilities. But as Joseph applied intense pressure to act, and they risked being marginalized or even banished from the community as heretics, those chosen to accept their celestial privileges eventually consented.

Some people discovered the state of marital confusion in Nauvoo simply because they were Latter-day Saints and lived there. Sarah Leavitt had been a Freewill Baptist who accepted the possibility of universal salvation before she converted to the LDS Church. She had never spoken directly to Joseph Smith herself but said she “had seen him and heard him preach” and felt that he was “a prophet of God.” She wrote:

It was whispered in my ear by a friend that the authorities were getting more wives than one. I have thought for many years that the connections between a man and wife were as sacred as the heavens and ought to be treated as such, and I thought that the Anointed of the Lord would not get more wives unless they were commanded to do so. But still I wanted a knowledge of the truth for myself. I asked my husband if he did not think we could get a revelation for ourselves on that subject. He said he did not know. … [That evening] my mind was carried away from the earth and I had a view of the order of the celestial kingdom. … I have seen so much wrong connected with this ordinance that had I not had it revealed to me from Him that cannot lie[,] I should have…doubted the truth of it, but there has never a doubt crossed my mind concerning the truth of it since the Lord made it known to me by a heavenly vision.5

Prevalence presaged discovery

Orange Wight, son of Lyman Wight, said he learned about polygamy from his neighbors and members of his ward. As described in chapter 3, the young man faced a dilemma when he inadvertently sought out the company of Flora Ann Woodworth, only to learn that she had been married to Joseph Smith. Wight elaborated:

At first the Doctrine was taught in private. The first I knew about it was in John Hig[be]e[’]s family[.] He lived close to us and being well acquainted with him and family I discoverd he had two wives. The next I noticed [was] when in company with the young folks the girls were calling one another spirituals [spiritual wives]. … Now altho only in my 20th year…I concluded to look about and try to pick up one or more of the young Ladies before they were all gone, so I commenced keeping company with Flora Woodworth, Daughter of Lucian Woodworth.

After being informed by Flora’s mother that her daughter was taken, Orange decided to look for another companion.

I was no[w] called on a mishion to go up the river 5 or 6 hundred miles to make lumber for the Nauvoo house and Temple.…I knew of a Girl that I thought I could induce to go. She was over in Ioway across the river. I went over in a skiff. Found the Girl and she agreed to go at once, she was a Daughter of Gideon Carter that was killed in the crooked river battle in Missoury[.] She had neither Father nor Mother. So I thot maby I had the right one this time.

Then we all borded a steamboat and started for Black river Wisconsin. Long before we reach our destination, I got acquainted with the Hadfield fam[i]ly. There were two young Girls. I had them away where I thought I could induce them to take up with me. Now it remaines to see how I succeeded. I at once commenced keeping company with Miss Sarah Hadfield and at the same time paid close attention to Miss Matilda Carter.

Now it would be uninteresting to you to [have] related [to you] all the ups and downs I had inmy courtship, so I will mearly say I succeeded in marrying both of them. The sister [of] Miss Matilda Carter I maried some years afterward.

In all this time I did not hear [P]ress. Brigham Young[’s] name mentioned in connection of Plurel marrage. The Doctrine was taught me by other Apostels Bishops and members of the church. Bishop George Miller, [W]m Claton and David Claton, Bishop Isac Higbee, John Higbee, and others, also by Joseph Smith the Prophet by prec[e]dent and Revelation.6

After confirming the doctrine from people he knew,Wight went looking and found wives for himself “before they were all gone.”

Family encouragement

One of Heber Kimball’s wives, Mary Ellen Able Kimball, believed she was among the first to know about polygamy when she was confided in sometime in 1842:

In the course of conversation br. George [A. Smith] says a [female] friend of his at Cincinnati had apostacized because she thought some of the people had more wives than one. How foolish I replied. There is nothing in the book of Mormon or Doctrine and Covenants to uphold such a doctrine. He smiled and said nothing. I was surprised at this. And after arriving at Nauvoo [I] told sis. Clawson of it. Well she said I think there is something in it. I thought not because I knew…this people were slandered in a most reediculous manner … but replied I[,] why do you think so.Well she asked, what did the Lord say to David?…Thinking it would be a day of barbarism in earnest [if polygamy were practiced,] I knew of none except Arabs or Turks who practiced such a life…[and] learned that br Hyrum Smith saw this subject in the same light as I did until he had a revelation on the subject. Finally I fe[l]l in company with br. Hyrum[,] who in a few words made the subject plainer to my understanding. Yet I thought others could live it much better than I could.…I remember saying I do not believe there is a man in this church who would give his daughter in plural marriage. I firmly believed this, but in a few weeks I learned that El[der] H[eber] C. Kimball gave his daughter and she was an only daughter too. … After learning this lesson I fell to look upon plural marriage as differently as day is from night. … I was sealed to Br. H. C. Kimball at the house of Br. Erastus Snow…in the fall of 1844.…I do remember those who knelt at the altar at the same time; and [Heber’s first wife,] sister Vilate Kimball[,] placed each of our hands in that of her husband’s.7

Plural marriage had a strong effect on children when they learned that their father would marry—or had already married—other women. Parents were understandably slow to informtheir children about these changes in their father’s intimacies. Thirteen-year-old Helen Mar Kimball was not aware her father had married Sarah Noon, even after Sarah gave birth to a child: “I had no knowledge then of the plural order, and therefore remained ignorant of our relationship to each other until after his [the child’s] death, as he only lived a few months. It’s true I had noticed the great interest taken by my parents in behalf of Sister Noon, but … I thought nothing strange of this.”8 When Heber explained his compound marriage to her in the summer of 1843, prior to her own marriage to Joseph Smith—she was fourteen by then— various “fears and temptations … flashed through my mind,” Helen wrote. She continued: “The next day the Prophet called at our house, and I sat with my father and mother and heard him teach the principle and explain it more fully, and I believed it.”9

Artemisia Beaman was Erastus Snow’s first wife and would bear him eleven children. In April 1844, Erastus married Minerva White. Artemisia later expressed her endorsement of this step her husband took:

Sisters, I am a sincere believer in plural marriage. In 1844 my husband first asked my consent to take to himself other wives. I freely gave it, believing such an order of marriage to be a pure and holy principle, revealed from the heavens to our beloved Prophet, Seer, and Revelator. Knowing it to be a principle practiced anciently by those, who now sit at the right hand of our Father in Heaven, and knowing also my husband to be a virtuous man, and entering into that order out of pure motives in obedience to the will and commandments of Heaven, I say I freely gave my consent. I have lived in the order of Celestial marriage thirty-five years. I have no wise—I have no desire—to have it changed or abolished.10

From the perspective of the woman who became the proverbial third wheel in the family, Minerva White found it more difficult to be the plural wife than Artemisia did to accept her into the marriage. Snow’s biographer found it difficult to acknowledge the next two wives in the family, the sisters Achsah and Louisa Wing, and opted not to mention them, skipping over to the next woman, Elizabeth Rebecca Ashby, and calling her the third wife. Despite a New England Puritan heritage, Elizabeth married Snow at the age of sixteen on December 19, 1847.11

Amasa Lyman moved to Nauvoo in 1841 and worked for a while in Theodore Turley’s gun repair shop, then served missions in Illinois, Indiana, New York, Tennessee, and Wisconsin. He was preparing to go to Boston in the spring of 1844 when Joseph Smith spoke with him about plural marriage. As Lyman reported it, “a few days after the [April] conference, I had an interview with the Prophet, in which he taught me some principles on celestial marriage. On the day of my parting with him, he said as he warmly grasped my hand for the last time, ‘Brother Amasa, go and practice on the principles I have taught you, and God bless you.’”12

Lyman’s biographer reported that “meetings with the Prophet” were “always occasions of delight and always too infrequent,” paraphrasing the subject of the biography. Lyman “stood nearer than any other man to Joseph” Smith and was “eligible to all the inner confidences.” He was also the only counselor in the First Presidency to remain faithful to Smith after William Law and Sidney Rigdon became disaffected. Lyman understood that the “plurality of wives” was a matter that “as yet was to be kept carefully from the ears of the world.” In Lyman’s last conversation with the prophet, Smith used “impressive words” to emphasize “the import and obligation of this ancient law,” saying that “to obey that law” was “one of the essentials to salvation.”

Joseph’s ultimatums

At first, Lyman found polygamy to be “strange, startling, astonishing” and “rather too much to grasp in a moment.” He also perceived a “tone” of “power and authority” in Smith’s voice. More and more often, Joseph would threaten colleagues with eternal damnation if they did not accept the promised rewards of plural marriage. If Lyman rejected this principle, Joseph told him, “he would be damned.” Lyman anticipated “difficulty and danger, the shame, disgrace and loss of friends it might involve” and the possible “hopeless tangles of dissatisfaction, discouragement, separation, bitter estrangement, and irreparable heart-break” should he falter on this point. When he returned from the East, he dutifully married eight women and by old age would father thirty-seven children.13

Sometimes Joseph phrased the matter in terms of being free to go beyond the normal “bounds.” Brigham Young said, “The spiritual wife doctrine came upon me while abroad, in such a manner that I never forget.” He said that when he returned home,

Joseph said to me—“I command you to go and get another wife.” I felt as if the grave was better for me than anything, but I was filled with the Holy Ghost [and]…could jump up and holler.My blood was as clear as a West India rum, and my flesh was clear. I said to Joseph, “Suppose I should apostacize, after taking another wife, would not my family be worse off ?” Joseph answered—“There are certain bounds set to men, and if a man is faithful and pure to these bounds, God will take him out of the world; if he sees him falter, he will take him to himself. You are past these bounds, Brigham, and you have this consolation.” But I never had any fears of not being saved. Then I said to Joseph, I was ready to go ahead.

The next statement from Young was a telling concession that the normal rules governing social interaction had not applied to Smith as he had set about instigating polygamy. “He passed certain bounds,” Young explained, “before certain revelations were given.”14

In an address in 1883 to the Mormon settlements around Bear Lake, Idaho, future church president John Taylor, who was then a senior apostle, described the ultimatum that had accompanied the command to practice polygamy:

Joseph Smith told the Twelve that if this law was not practiced, if they would not enter into this covenant, then the Kingdom of God could not go one step further. Now, we did not feel like preventing the Kingdom of God from going forward. We professed to be the Apostles of the Lord, and did not feel like putting ourselves in a position to retard the progress of the Kingdom of God. The revelation…says that “All those who have this law revealed unto them must obey the same.”…It was the Prophet of God who revealed that to us in Nauvoo, and I bear witness of this solemn fact before God, that He did reveal this sacred principle to me and others of the Twelve, and in this revelation it was stated that it is the will and law of God that “all those who have this law revealed unto them must obey the same.”

Taylor said he “had always entertained strict ideas of virtue, and I felt as a married man that…[polygamy was] an appalling thing to do. The idea of my going and asking a young lady to be married to me, when I had already a wife! … I have always looked upon such a thing as infamous, and upon such a man as a villain.” His reaction was understandable: “We [the Twelve] seemed to put off, as far as we could, what might be termed the evil day.” But for Taylor, the strength of Smith’s persuasive argument eventually prevailed: “Some time after these things were made known to us, I was riding out of Nauvoo on horseback, and met Joseph Smith coming in, he, too, being on horseback…I bowed to Brother Joseph, and having done the same to me, he said; ‘Stop;’ and he looked at me very intently. ‘Look here,’ said he, ‘those things that have been spoken of must be fulfilled, and if they are not entered into right away, the keys will be [re]turned.’” Taylor replied: “Brother Joseph, I will try and carry these things out.”15 Taylor’s biographer noted that within two years the apostle had married Jane B. Ballantyne, Elizabeth Kaighan, and Mary Ann Oakley and that in Utah, Taylor married Harriet Whitaker, Sophia Whitaker, and Margaret Young.16 In fact, he would marry another eleven women as well.

Elizabeth Ann and Newel K. Whitney

Elizabeth Ann Whitney was close to Emma Smith as her counselor in the Relief Society presidency. Together they expressed public opposition to the “rumors of plural marriage” even as Elizabeth was arranging conjugal visits between her daughter, Sarah Ann, and Emma’s husband in 1842, as documented in chapter 2. In her reminiscences, Elizabeth described how Joseph Smith invited her husband, a trusted Mason, to accept the revelation.

It was during the time we lived at the Brick Store that Joseph received the revelation pertaining to Celestial Marriage … He had been strictly charged by the angel who committed these precious things into his keeping that he should only reveal them to such persons as were pure, full of integrity to the truth, and worthy to be entrusted with divine messages; that to spread them abroad would only be like casting pearls before swine, and that the most profound secrecy must be maintained, until the Lord saw fit to make it known publicly through His servants. Joseph had the most explicit confidence in my husband’s uprightness and integrity of character; he knew him capable of keeping a secret, and was not afraid to confide in him, as he had been a Free Mason for many years. He therefore confided to him, and a few others, the principles set forth in that revelation, and also gave him the privilege to read it and to make a copy of it, knowing it would be perfectly safe with him. It was this veritable copy, which was preserved, in the providence of God, that has since been published to the world; for Emma (Joseph’s wife) afterwards becoming indignant, burned the original, thinking she had destroyed the only written copy upon the subject in existence.

While Elizabeth and Emma were combating rumors of polygamy, Elizabeth’s husband, Newel, was guarding a copy of the revelation justifying the doctrine.17 Elizabeth said, “Our faith [was] made so perfect that we were willing to give our eldest daughter, then only seventeen years of age, to Joseph, in the holy order of plural marriage.” She commented that their daughter “had been raised in the strictest manner as regarded propriety, virtue and chastity; she was as pure in thought, in feeling and in impulse as it was possible for a young girl to be, yet, laying aside all our traditions and former notions in regard to marriage, we gave her with our mutual consent.” In fact, Elizabeth was proud of the fact that her daughter would be “the first woman ever given in plural marriage” with the consent of her parents. The only reason for problems, in Elizabeth’s view, was because some of the early practitioners failed to keep the practice confidential: “Of course, these things had to be kept an inviolate secret; and as some were false to their vows and pledges, persecution arose, and caused grievous sorrow to those who had obeyed, in all purity and sincerity, the requirements of the celestial order of marriage.”

Elizabeth acknowledged the difficulty with which some weaker individuals received the new marriage practice: “They themselves did not comprehend what the ultimate course of action would be, but were waiting further developments from heaven…It was not strange that many could not receive it; others doubted, and only a few remained firm and immovable.” She and her husband clearly considered themselves stalwarts, and yet Newel himself was reticent to answer the call to espouse another woman: “Although my husband believed and was firm in teaching this Celestial order of Marriage, he was slow in practice. Joseph repeatedly told him to take a wife, or wives, but he wished to be so extremely cautious … that in Joseph’s day he never took a wife.When he did so, he did it to fulfill a duty to the principles of divine revelation as he understood his duty.” When Newel married another woman, he found it was not as bad in practice as it had seemed in theory; he warmed up to the idea and soon had “several” wives to his credit. “With one or two exceptions,” Elizabeth observed, “they came into the same house with me, and my children; therefore, I believe I am safe in saying that I am intimately acquainted with the practical part of polygamy.”18

Delay among Nauvoo leaders

In his voluminous journals, Wilford Woodruff wrote of the difficulty in persuading Latter-day Saints to take up the cause in 1844. He recorded Joseph’s words before a large assembly of Saints at the site of the future temple: “The Saints will be divided & broken up & scattered before we get our salvation secure …. [A]ny person who is exhalted to the highest mansion has to abide a celestial law & the whole law, to[o]. But there has been a great difficulty in getting anything into the heads of this generation.” Joseph wondered “how many will be able to abide a Celestial law.”19

Although high in the LDS hierarchy and eventually serving as church president, Woodruff was among those who did not take additional wives in Joseph Smith’s lifetime. Perhaps contributing to his initial hesitancy was his extensive involvement away from home in missionary activities. When the rest of the Saints were beginning their haphazard winter trek across Iowa in February 1846, Woodruff was returning from a mission to England and then remained in Nauvoo for a time, marrying Mary Ann Jackson in the temple there on April 15, 1846, then Mary Barton on August 2. Eventually he acquired nine plural wives and fathered thirty-five children. In his diaries, he obsessively recorded his mileage on his various missions, giving a total of 61,692 miles he had traveled across North America and Europe by 1846 during which time he had planted 51 churches, wrote 1,040 letters, and confirmed 813 new members into the church, according to his meticulous calculations.20

Persuasion by revelation

On August 12, 1843, as Hyrum Smith read his brother’s month-old dictated revelation to a dozen or more individuals at a Nauvoo Stake High Council meeting, reactions were mixed. Reports of the event contain references to dissent in the leadership for the first time since Oliver Cowdery’s private objection in 1838 to the prophet’s conduct with Fanny Alger or the year-ago protest of President John Bennett when he defected over what he called “gross sexual improprieties, ethical degradation, financial misbehavior, theft, and murder.”21 Four supporters of plural marriage, James Allred, David Fullmer, Thomas Grover, and Aaron Johnson, as well as a critic, Leonard Soby, reported on the meeting in letters and affidavits.

Fullmer recalled in an affidavit that “Dunbar Wilson made enquiry in relation to the subject of plurality of wives as there were rumors afloat respecting it, and he was ‘satisfied there was something in those rumors, and he wanted to know what it was.’” In response, Hyrum went to obtain “a copy of the revelation on celestial marriage given to Joseph Smith July 12, 1843, and read the same to the High Council.” Fullmer recalled that besides himself, Smith, and Wilson, there were at least twelve others at the meeting: James Allred, Samuel Bent, Austin A. Cowles, Thomas Grover, George W. Harris, William Huntington, Levi Jackman, Aaron Johnson, William Marks, Phinias Richards, Leonard Soby, and Dunbar Wilson. He singled out Cowles, Marks, and Soby as the ones who were most disturbed by this perceived infraction of the ten commandments. The three detractors, Fullmer said, “were the only persons present who did not receive the Revelation and Testimony of Hyrum Smith.”22 Fullmer verified that the revelation published in the Deseret News September 14, 1852, was an accurate copy.23

Thomas Grover affirmed Fullmer’s memory and “further sayeth that Hyrum Smith reasoned upon said Revelation for about an hour, clearly explaining the same, and enjoined it upon said [High] Council, to receive and acknowledge the same, or they would be damned.” Grover confirmed that Cowles, Marks, and Soby “refused” to do so, that they began at that moment to “dwindle” in faith until eventually they made a clean break with the church.24

James Allred recalled that the meeting was “held in Hyrum Smith’s Brick office.” He said Hyrum “read the revelation on celestial marriage to said High Council, and enjoined it upon them to manifest their willingness to receive or reject the same, at the same time bearing his testimony of its truth.” Cowles, Marks, and Soby had “voted against the Revelation and the Testimony of Hyrum.”25

Leonard Soby emphasized the significance of the meeting in showing that the revelation on marriage “did not originate with Brigham Young” after Smith’s death, “as some persons had falsely stated, but was received by the Prophet Joseph Smith.”26 Soby was living near the Delaware River north of Philadelphia in Beverly, New Jersey, when he recorded his reminiscence. He believed himself to be “about the only person now [1886] living who was present at the High Council meeting at which the revelation on celestial marriage was read.” He reiterated that he “was there and did hear the revelation read.” His motivation for saying so was that Zenos Gurley, a follower of Joseph Smith III, had questioned whether there had been a plural marriage revelation at all.27

Hyrum explained the revelation to some other prominent citizens before and after the High Council meeting. Howard Coray said it was

on the 22nd day of July, A.D., 1843, [when] Hyrum Smith, the martyred patriarch, came in a carriage to my house in Nauvoo; he invited me and my wife to take a ride with him [in his carriage] … in the direction of Carthage [Illinois]. Having gone a short distance, he observed to us that his brother Joseph Smith the Prophet, had received a revelation on marriage, that was not for the public yet, which he would rehearse to us, as he had taken pains to commit it to memory.28

Charles Rich was starting on a mission to Michigan in May 1844 when he too was taught “the principle of polygamy or celestial marriage” by Hyrum Smith. Hyrum told Rich that he should consider it “his privilege to take other wives” when he returned from his mission.29

Not long afterward, two members of the High Council, Cowles (father of Smith’s plural wife, Elvira Cowles) and Soby, withdrew from the church and revealed the content of the revelation to the public. It created a wave of confusion and discontent as these formerly esteemed leaders accused Smith and others of marital infidelity. Citizens in the surrounding area needed little prompting to join their own voices to the chorus of protesters.30 It was during this period, before and after the Smith brothers’ martyrdom, that many first realized that plural marriage was, in fact, a reality among the LDS hierarchy. Sarah Leavitt is a representative example of how church members confronted the issue and struggled with it but soon decided they would continue to support the leadership. Bathsheba W. Smith, the first wife of Apostle George A. Smith, went through these emotional currents until she “firmly” concluded that she should “participate with him [George A.] in all his blessings, glory and honor.” She compared herself to “Sarah of old” because she “had given to my husband five wives,” whom she defended as “good, virtuous, honorable young women.”31

Teaching others

In 1843 Smith initiated new participants in polygamy with caution, usually in a secluded area, carefully chosen, and often in a natural setting. Over the next year these extra marriages became more visible as Joseph would even call attention to his own wives. By 1844, Smith had become even more nonchalant in introducing the topic to loyal adherents. Amos Fielding affirmed by affidavit that “in December A.D. 1843, on his arrival at Nauvoo from a mission to England, he was informed that Joseph Smith had obtained a Revelation on Celestial Marriage, and on or about the 9th of March 1844, while in conversation with the Prophet at the Mansion, a young lady passed through the room where they were sitting, when President Smith remarked ‘that is one of my wives.’”32

In another affidavit, John Benbow affirmed that in summer 1843 at his home just outside of Nauvoo, Joseph came to speak to him and his wife together and brought Hyrum with him. After telling John and Jane about the “doctrine of Celestial Marriage or plurality of wives,” Joseph arranged to use the Benbow home for intimate visits with one of his wives, Hannah Ells, who lived with the Benbows.33

Acquiescence among bodyguards

Four of Smith’s approximately forty bodyguards had their own unique experiences with these strange innovations of their client. Aware at an early date of the numerous intimacies of the lifestyle, they had a model on which to structure their own families. John D. Lee, one of the most famous of the bodyguards, exhibited enough self-awareness to know it was not until he had acquired “a large home” and sufficient “standing in the church” that he would be considered “one of the elect who might practice celestial marriage.”34 His narrative is important for its discussion of an alternative means to link leading families by what they called “adoption,” meaning that an adult was “adopted” into the family of another adult for a family pedigree that they thought replicated the interconnectedness that the elite would enjoy in heaven. Lee wrote on February 5, 1845, “Nancy Bean was adopted into my family.” On April 19, “Louisa Free was also admitted—taking upon her my name. On the same day Caroline Williams was registered on my list—and on the 3rd day of May 1845 Abigail Woolsey, and Rachel her daughter was likewise acknowledged.”35

In Lee’s deathbed “confessions,” he explained that he had pursued plural marriage as aggressively as adoption, with the intent of adding to his celestial possessions:

My second wife, Nancy Bean, was the daughter of a wealthy farmer who lived near Quincy, Illinois. She saw me on a mission and heard me preach at her father’s house. She came to Nauvoo and stayed at my house three months, and grew in favor and was sealed to me in the Winter of 1845. My third and fourth wives were sealed to me soon afterward in my own house…Amasa Lyman officiated at the ceremony. At the same time Sarah C. Williams, the girl that I had baptized in Tennessee, when but a child … stood up and claimed a place in my family … In the Spring of 1845 Rachel Andora was sealed to me…She was a sister to my first wife. Her mother, Abigail Sheffer, was sealed to me for an eternal state.36

With his relatively large number of wives, nineteen in all, Lee broadcast his standing to the community.37 Like marrying into royalty, Lee’s wives significantly came from the most prominent families: two Vances, three Williamses, four Woolseys, and two Youngs among them. That was the shape of Lee’s kingdom which he projected into the next world, where he believed family standing would count for something.

Another bodyguard, Hosea Stout, received encouragement directly from Joseph Smith to take a plural wife, which Stout did on April 20, 1845, choosing Lucretia Fisher. A descendant,Wayne Stout, calculated that Lucretia was born May 23, 1830, meaning “she was only 15 years old at that time,” twenty years younger than Stout. The descendant found it astonishing that Stout could keep peace in his family with his first wife, the twenty-three-year-old Louisa Taylor, while marrying a teenager. And the marrying went on:

Forty days later (June 30) he accomplished a feat more incredible than the first. He married a third wife. This time it was nineteen-year-old Marinda Bennett, … born August 26, 1826, at Bedford, Tennessee. It is indeed very remarkable that he could induce this charming lady in the very prime of life to be the third wife to a man 16 years her senior! The case illustrates the great influence which the teachings of Joseph Smith have on the people at that time.38

A third bodyguard, the noted gunslinger Orrin Porter Rockwell,39 gave literal meaning to “taking a wife,” according to the Warsaw Signal of December 10, 1845. The newspaper editorialized:

O. P. ROCKWELL — This delectable specimen of humanity, who was once the peculiar pet of Joe Smith and has since been regarded as the main champion of Zion in the holy city, … has taken to himself a wife—not his own wife, for be it remember[ed] that he cast off the woman that law regarded as his wife long since; but he has appropriated to himself the wife of Amos Davis [a Nauvoo legion captain].…So fashionable is it for the Heads of the church to appropriate the wives of other men to their own purposes, that it is regarded as no crime for one man to steal the companion of his neighbor and live with her in open unconcealed adultery. What a beautiful moral code is Mormonism!40

A fourth bodyguard, George A. Smith, had experiences with plural marriage that were documented by biographer Merlo Pusey. “In the spring of 1841, or earlier,” Pusey narrated, Joseph Smith “began marrying plural wives in deep secrecy, the facts being known only to the bride, her parents, the officiating church leader, and sometimes his first wife Emma.”41 Some of the hierarchy, including George A., were “deeply shocked.” It was George A.’s opinion that if polygamy had been preached in the 1830s, “perhaps we should all have apostatized at once.”42 To focus on the actual practice might have seemed unsavory, whereas presented as a theological concept, celestial marriage seemed to have a “profound appeal.”

George A.’s wife, Bathsheba, said the prophet “counseled the sisters not to trouble themselves in consequence of it, that all would be right, and the result would be for their glory and exaltation.” She went on to state that she was “proud of my husband” and that their love for each other was not diminished by George’s love for these other women; instead, “he would not love them less because he loved me more,” she concluded. As compensation, she felt “joy in having a testimony that what I had done was acceptable tomy Father in Heaven.”43

It was probably not insignificant that George A. was the missionary who converted Bathsheba in her small town in what is now West Virginia. She was fifteen years old, and George A. and a companion, Marcellus F. Cowdery (cousin to Oliver), had crossed the Ohio River in mid-August 1837 for a debate. While there, they met her parents, Mark and Susanah Bigler, who farmed a 300-acre plantation. Four years later, in July 1841, Bathsheba married her missionary and agreed to “keep his cabin.” She wrote that she and “Mr. Smith believed firmly” in Joseph Smith Jr. as the “prophet of the Most High.” She also acknowledged that she “became thoroughly convinced as well as my husband that the doctrine ‘plurality of wives’ as taught…in our hearing” by Joseph Smith “was a revelation from God.” It was because she had “a fixed determination to attain Celestial Glory” that she “felt to embrace [this] very principle.” It was “for my husband’s exaltation that he should obey the rev[elation] on P[lural] M[arriage] in order to attain kingdoms, thrones, principalities and powers.” She “firmly believ[ed]” that she would “participate with him in all his blessings, glory and honor.” In pursuit of this conviction, she decided to help him find suitable wives. Bathsheba was still a young woman of twenty-two years at the time. George A. was twenty-seven.44

Bathsheba reported that it was after her husband returned from a mission to Boston in the fall of 1843 that they were “sealed under the holy order of Celestial Marriage” which she said was “revealed July 12, 1843.” She may well have been unaware of any previous plural marriages. She and her husband considered themselves close to the prophet and were often with him in the room over his red brick store, which is also where the temple endowment ceremony was first introduced. She heard Joseph give his counsel to the women that they should do as they were instructed and it would be “for their glory and exaltation.”45 Some of the plural wives, and some of the celestial husbands, repeated nearly by rote this same reasoning in their personal accounts. Among Joseph Smith’s wives, Sarah Cleveland, Marinda Hyde,Mary Lightner, and Sylvia Lyon uttered similar words.46 “Many —but not all—of the men and especially women entering into Joseph Smith’s order of plural marriage,” wrote historian Gary James Bergera,

did so primarily as a show of loyalty, obedience, and sacrifice to Smith, coupled with Smith’s assurance that blessings unimaginable awaited them. For Smith, plural marriage represented the pinnacle of his theology of exaltation: the husband as king and priest, surrounded by queens and priestesses eternally procreating spirit children … [for] additional glory, power, and exaltation—the entire process of exaltation cycling forever worlds without end.47

Practical expectations
Charles Rich (1809-83), was a rugged Mormon frontiersman, born in Kentucky with some of the adventure of a Daniel Boone. He colonized San Bernardino and then the even more remote area of Bear Lake Valley in Idaho. A Southerner, he was traditional in his personal morals; he found the quest for eternal life to be all-consuming. Before he was taught the new doctrine of marriage, he had believed that monogamy was a necessary part of personal integrity. He understood why women might reject polygamy. But now he was being asked to accept that a man might live in intimacy with several women, without blame. If that were not enough, the prophet was telling him that unless he embraced plural marriage he would incur God’s displeasure. It was only Rich’s confidence in the prophet, believing him to be God’s spokesman, that enabled him to convert his thinking and marry five plural wives. He came to believe that each male priesthood holder could more effectively look after his “kingdom” within the structure of plural marriage. Each man was “a God in embryo,” according to the 1840s teachings, with a potential to create worlds of their own and populate them with endless families, so it made sense that plural marriage would facilitate this process. Lest he be tempted by the flesh, Rich let his legal wife, Sarah Pea, decide whom they would invite into their family circle and how often. The Riches were convinced that love, or the absence of it, did not matter. They lived in plural marriage because it was the “revealed” word of God and was “right,” that it would facilitate Charles’s progress toward becoming a future god who would rule his own world. Sarah instructed Charles’s first four plural wives in the principle, and upon receiving the consent of the young women’s parents, church authorities performed the four ceremonies.48

Rich’s youngest plural wife, Harriet Sargent, was only fourteen years old when they married. His biographer indicated that she was “a beautiful young woman, fully matured,” and “much sought after, both by married and by single men.” A married Mormon man could stay active in courting young women, especially if he was one of the church leaders.When Rich asked her what she thought of plural marriage, she told him she believed it to be “right” or “it would not have been revealed to the Prophet.” He asked her if she would be interested in a polygamous marriage with one or another interested “brethren” among the church authorities, which she denied. Later he asked if she would, more specifically, consider becoming his wife. “But you don’t love me, Brother Rich, do you?” she asked. He responded frankly, “You don’t love me either, do you?” Rich quickly added that he “admired and respected” her, as did his first wife, Sarah. After discussing the matter and assuring her that celestial marriage was a “true principle, necessary to the highest glory in the next world,” she accepted his proposal.49 His experience, even in persuading a fourteen-year-old to be his plural wife, exemplified one of the reasons Mormon polygamy was potentially workable, both in theory and practice: it relied upon the theological underpinning of plural gods and an infinite number of worlds.

Natural tensions between women in a plural marriage were mitigated by bringing the first wife in on the decision to select additional wives. In her autobiography, Sarah Rich wrote that “many may think it very strange that I would consent for my dear husband, whom I loved as I did my own life and lived with him for years, to take more wives; this I could not have done if I had not believed it to be right in the sight of god, and believed it to be the one principle of His Gospel, once again restored to the earth, that those holding the Priesthood of Heaven might, by obeying this Order attain to a higher glory in the eternal world.”50

Another of Rich’s wives, Mary Phelps Rich, wrote that “on January 6, 1845, after considerable deliberation, I embraced the principle of plural marriage. I was married to Charles C. Rich, with the full consent of his first wife, I being his third wife.We then lived in the hope of soon moving to the Rocky Mountains, where we would be free to live our religion and be acknowledged as wives.”51 For Mary, a large cohesive family provided the security she needed for the long walk into the unknown to escape persecution. Wife number five, Emeline Grover Rich, underscored that this had little to do with love for many women. Her son asked her if she had ever loved his father, and she answered: “We learned to love him.”52 As with fourteen-year-old Harriet, Emeline, also fourteen, had not considered affection a prerequisite to marry polygamously.

Joseph Lee Robinson said “the little he knew about” plural marriage “had come directly from the prophet” and that after the deaths of Joseph and Hyrum the Lord had granted him a vision of the “remarkable, sacred, and interesting doctrine.”He was taught that a large number of intelligent spirits had been “kept back in reserve” in a pre-earth existence to be born in the latter days. A chair maker, Robinson was working in a wood shop when this vision fell upon him and demonstrated that “polygamy is an institution from heaven…for the purpose of raising up seed unto the Lord.”53 He believed he would be among those who would populate infinite worlds.

Hyrum Smith’s first plural wife, Mercy Rachel Fielding, sister of his legal wife, Mary Fielding, said she was persuaded against her initially negative disposition to go ahead and marry her brother-in-law:

On the 11 of August 1843 I was called by direct revelation from Heaven through Brother Joseph[,] Prophet[,] to enter into a state of Plural Marriage with Hyrum Smith[,] Patriarch. This subject when first communicated to me tried me to the very core of my former traditions and every natural feeling of my Heart rose in opposition to this Principle but I was convinced that it was appointed by him who is too wise to err and too good to be unkind. Soon after Marriage I became an inmate with my sister in the House of Hyrum Smith where I remained until his Death sharing with my sister the care of his numerous family [and where] I had [been] from the time I moved to his House acting as scribe Recording Patriarchal Blessings.54

Margaret Peirce Whitesides wrote in her journal that she became Brigham Young’s nineteenth living wife “on January 22, 1846,” formalizing their earlier sealing of January 1845. She reflected: “I have no regrets that I went into that Sacred Order. We did what we thought was right; we were conscientious; we broke no law of the land. Those of us who entered that Order soon will have passed to the great beyond where we will be judged by the Father, who knows our hearts.”55 At age twenty-one, she had made a conscious decision to enter polygamy in preparation for the next world. But in later life, one can detect a hint of doubt in her statement—perhaps regret that she missed the natural excitement of a youthful romance—even though her commitment to the principle of plural marriage was unwavering. She lived to be eighty-three, dying in January 1907.

Lucy Walker explained how she felt about polygamy: “Instead of a feeling of jealousy, it was a source of comfort to us. We were as sisters to each other.” She said that by being Joseph Smith’s plural wife she had “acted in accordance with the will of God…not for the gratification of the flesh.” To say they had “accepted this principle for any lustful desires” would have been “preposterous” and “utterly impossible.” This was “a principle that would benefit the human family,” she insisted, one which would “emancipate them from the degradation into which they, through their wicked customs, had fallen.” Castigation of the morals of monogamist society is a recurring theme in the stories of polygamists that reflects both the official propaganda and expresses the depth of insult Mormons felt over their portrayal as a people of low moral integrity.

So polygamy was said to be a remedy for social ills, and beyond that, Lucy perceived a personal benefit to it. “A tie had been formed that will bring me into the highest and most glorious destiny,” she believed. That is, plural marriage would bring her into the Celestial Kingdom.56 Lucy went on to explain the day-to-day reality of being one of many women married to the same man:

Since 1845, I have been the wife of President Heber C. Kimball, by whom I have had nine children, five sons and four daughters, who have lived in the same house with other members of his family; have loved them as dearly as my own sisters, until it became necessary, as our children began to grow up around us, to have separate homes. Every mother had her own mode of government, and as children grow in years, it is more pleasant to have them under the immediate dictation of their own mother. I can truthfully state, however, that there is less room for jealousy where wives live under the same roof. They become interested in each others welfare; they love each other’s children[;] beside[s], in my experience, I find the children themselves love each other as dearly as the children of one mother.

Even so, living together naturally required more than the usual amount of patience: “It is a grand school. You learn self control, self denial, it brings out the nobler traits of our fallen natures, and teaches us to study and subdue self, while we become acquainted with the peculiar characteristics of each other.”57

Acceptance and Rejection

In 1880, Ebenezer Robinson wanted to clear the air on what he considered a “subject which is not pleasant to dwell upon[,] but it is not wise for us as individuals or as a people to ignore the truths of the past, but to look the history of the past squarely in the face.” To the question of when and where polygamy was introduced, he wrote that “the doctrine of ‘spiritual wives’ was taught privately in the church in Nauvoo, in 1841.” Plural marriage emerged out of spiritual wivery (“This I always considered polygamy”). Hyrum Smith “instructed me in Nov. or Dec. 1843, to make a selection of some young woman,” Robinson continued. Hyrum said “he would seal her to me, and I should take her home.”58 Despite this ecclesiastical advice, Robinson remained married to one woman. His brother, Joseph Lee Robinson, on the other hand, endorsed the theology and married six wives.

Jane Richards said that when Joseph Smith received the revelation, he “talked of it in confidence with my husband, who mentioned it to me, though I spoke of it to no one.” She thought it “a strange thing” and was “uncertain” at first as to “the result” within a family and society generally if people embraced it.59 It seemed logical enough in theory, but the thought of actually bringing another woman into her marriage was nearly unconscionable. It was not until she saw Joseph Smith in a vision (previously mentioned) that she was satisfied enough to venture into it.

Then the day came when theory turned to reality. She related the circumstances to her biographer, who wrote that “about eight months after her marriage, Elder Richards told her he felt he should like to have another wife.”

It was crushing at first, but she said that…if it was necessary to her salvation that she should let another [wife] share her pleasures, she would do so even if it was necessary for her to do the other thing. He wanted to know what that was and [said that] if she thought she could not be happy in such a relation he would not enter into it. She said if she found they could not live without quarrelling she should leave him.

This must have been sufficient enough of an ultimatum for Franklin to postpone diversifying their marital union for several years to mollify his wife’s feelings. Finally he announced that the time had come. “In three or four days,” he declared he would bring home a wife. When he mentioned who, “it was a surprise to her that he should select as he did; she knew the young woman very well.” But she did her best to make the situation comfortable for the new bride, knowing it would be as difficult for her as it was for Jane. Elizabeth, as it turned out, “was amiable” and “all lived happily together” until the young woman died of tuberculosis on the journey toward Utah.60

A reason to resist
Having agreed, at twenty-two years old, to share her husband with sixteen-year-old Elizabeth McFate, Jane admitted that she did not know what she would do if children came. She thought she would “feel like wringing the neck of any other child than hers that should call him papa.”61 This undercurrent of resentment may be why Franklin Richards admitted reluctantly that plural marriage was “a bitter pill” but that “the Lord required it, and we had to look for the explanation and reason afterward.”62 After taking one “bitter pill,” Frank and Jane decided to wait more than three years before taking another, although the decision to find an added wife was no doubt influenced by the tragedy of Elizabeth’s death.


One of the most intriguing episodes in the plural marriage saga was that of Emmeline B. Wells. As a woman’s advocate and future associate of Susan B. Anthony in the suffrage movement, Wells seemed an unlikely convert to polygamy. Yet she not only married three times, in two of these nuptials she took her place in line along with several other wives. Emmeline’s feelings for the particular husbands involved and her own religious commitments might explain how this proponent of women’s rights became persuaded to join these polygamous families.

At the age of fifteen, the daughter of David and Deiadama Woodward, she married sixteen-year-old James Harvey Harris, the son of a presiding Mormon elder near Worcester, Massachusetts. In 1844, only a year into their marriage, the young couple moved to Nauvoo where James quickly became disaffected and left the LDS Church, as did his parents. The Harrises all moved to New Orleans; James died shortly afterward. Emmeline stayed in Nauvoo and taught school to support herself. Among her students were the children of Newel and Elizabeth Ann Whitney. One day the Whitneys drew Emmeline aside to instruct her in plural marriage. Newel’s concern was not limited to pedagogy, however; he felt affection for the teenager and was considering her for a wife. On February 24, 1845, the sixteen-year-old Emmeline married fifty-year-old Newel Whitney. Newel had recently wed two other women, and with Emmeline, his total number of wives came to eight. Newel’s weddings were ahead of the large wave of plural marriages solemnized prior to the westward migrations from Nauvoo. When the time came to leave in February 1846, Emmeline traveled with the Whitney family. Upon reaching Winter Quarters, Nebraska, she again taught school.

In Salt Lake City, Emmeline gave birth to Isabel and Melvina Whitney. When Newel died in 1850, Emmeline was now twice widowed and still only twenty-two. In desperation, she turned to her husband’s close friend, Daniel H. Wells, and indirectly proposed to him by letter. This prominent figure—an attorney, superintendent of public works, and second counselor to Brigham Young—still had a modest number of wives, six in all. Emmeline described herself as “a true friend” and appealed to Wells to “consider the lonely state” she found herself in, saying she hoped to be “united with a being noble as thyself.” She asked if he would “return to her a description of his feelings for her.”63 She became his seventh wife in 1852. His first six wives lived in what was known as the “big house” on South Temple Street. Emmeline and her five daughters, three of them by Wells, lived a few blocks away in a smaller home.

Emmeline became active with the national suffrage movement twenty years later in the 1870s. In a curious twist of circumstance, the national group led by Susan Anthony ended up supporting Mormon polygamy. From 1867 on, the U.S. Congress had considered granting women in Utah Territory the vote as a way to empower them to abolish polygamy. It was during these political negotiations that the Utah territorial legislature passed its own suffrage proposal in 1870 and Mormon feminists like Wells surprised Congress by coming out in full support of plural marriage. In response, Congress attempted to disenfranchise Mormon women. This political maneuvering put one faction of the national women’s movement on the side of Mormons and the other against them. According to Carol Cornwall Madsen, Wells’s theological perspective was that plural marriage would be the means to “exalt woman until she is redeemed from the effects of the Fall, and from that curse pronounced upon her in the beginning.” This was, again, the concept of exaltation, whereby men and women would be forever bound together in pursuit of godhood.64

In actuality, Emmeline saw plural marriage as a means for personal emancipation. Her attitude was, no doubt, derived from her early experiences as a fifteen-year-old bride to a husband she barely knew. She wanted to be “released from the hands of a cruel guardian who pretended so much respect for me that he did not wish me to associate with my own mother and sister because they were … Mormons.”65 For Emmeline, plural marriage was a vehicle for escaping her husband. She wanted a husband with so many wives, he could not smother her personal avocations; a disinterested husband was, “in truth,” the “lover” she sought.66 In her diary of February 1845, she expressed antipathy for her absent spouse, James Harris: “Here was I brought to this great city by one to whom I was expected to look for protection and left dependent on the mercy and friendship of strangers.”67 This abandonment made the concept of a stable afterlife even more attractive, wherein the “curse” on women due to Eve’s disobedience would be removed. Emmeline actively promoted the equality of women in the workplace and in civic and social endeavors—in every situation but the church hierarchy. In doing so, she constituted a strange bedfellow for national feminists.

Nauvoo citizens accepted plural marriage

The primary expressed reasons for practicing polygamy were belief in the “revealed word” of God and a demonstration of loyalty to Joseph Smith. By this logic, if it had not been “right,” the prophet would not have revealed it. Smith exercised remarkable influence over his followers. He assured them that plural marriage was necessary for celestial-afterlife glory and that there was an urgent need to “raise up seed unto the lord” in this life, promising them a world of spiritual splendor. This caught their imagination and drove them to feats of endurance and devotion. As Lucy Walker described it, she was Joseph Smith’s wife according to the “will of God.” Plural marriage was a principle that would “emancipate” the human family from “degradation.” It enabled participants to school their thoughts. She said she offered herself up as a “sacrifice” for the sake of this brave new world.68 Furthermore, Joseph told Lucy “the day would come” when she would be known as Mrs. Smith.69

Life in Polygamous Households

The leadership of a first wife

Polygamy changed the way families functioned. The lead wife was usually considered chief among the women. She allocated jobs, scheduled affection, and called for votes on whether or not to endorse the husband’s desire for a new wife. Among prominent examples, George A. Smith explained, “my wife, under the law of Abraham and Sarah, gave me five wives.” He named them: Nancy Clement, Hannah Maria Libby, Sarah Ann Libby, Lucy Smith, and Zilpha Stark.70 Perhaps spoken with rhetorical exaggeration, yet Bathsheba was at least involved in making accommodations for the new wives and probably witnessed the marriages. Heber Kimball wrote communal letters to his wives from abroad, according to their groupings in various houses. In 1855 he wrote to Ann, Amanda, Lucy, and Sarah Ann with some instructions: “[To] [a]ll my wives[:] [T]each our children… I have no time to teach children. I teach you and you teach them and my head teaches me. This is your Calling and lurn to hear me and Listen to my voice as you would like to have your Children Listen to you.”71

Accepting new wives

Margaret Thompson Smoot, wife of Abraham O. Smoot, affirmed that she knew plural marriage had come through Joseph Smith by “revelation from God”; that Joseph “had other wives, th[a]n Emma his first wife”; and that “the doctrine” of plural marriage was “true, pure and chaste, and ennobling to man and woman.” When her husband married other women, she was “perfectly willing, and gave my fullest and freest consent, believing and receiving it as a part of my religion, from which I have never faltered or swerved, and I bear testimony that my husband and his wives are virtuous, chaste and honorable to their marriage vows, and their children are legitimate, and heirs to the priesthood of the God.”72

John Fullmer’s first wife, Mary Ann, asked their housekeeper, Olive Amanda Smith, if she would be her husband’s second wife. Olive “decided she would never find a more noble com[p]anion, and she accepted them both,” marrying him on January 21, 1846.73 John’s younger brother, David, married Rhoda Ann Marvin in 1831. Then in January 1846, as Rhoda Ann remembered, she “fulfilled the law of Sarah,” a term that occurs frequently in women’s narratives in discussing polygamy. Rhoda Ann “gave to my husband … Margaret Philips and Sarah Sophronia [Oyster]banks. I felt happy and greatly blessed in fulfilling the law.”74 Frederick Cox’s biographer suggested that because the first wife assisted in selecting the others, this “probably contributed substantially toward the love and harmony that existed in the Cox family during later decades.”75

Challenge to a husband’s leadership

Love and harmony were not the terms many men chose to describe their domestic circumstances under the law of Sarah. Joseph Fielding said that plural marriage was his “greatest trial” and that there was “more trouble on the Subject of Plurality of Wives than anything else. … [S]ome of the best of our Sisters are tiranised over by some of the meanest.”76

Writing to his daughter in 1887, Erastus Snow emphasized that “the first wife should not usurp the functions of her husband in the control and government of his wives and their children.” In an interesting departure from what one might expect, he followed up by saying that “each wife should retain…separate and independent control of her own affairs and household.” Speaking of the first wife’s role in raising the stakes of a polygamous tent, Snow added: “there is, however, recognized in the revelations of God a right of the first wife called the ‘law of Sarai’ to [require that the first wife] be consulted by her husband and to give approval to his taking a second [wife] into the family[,] and the same right also extends to the second where a third is to be taken in order that all may be done by common consent in order to maintain mutual confidence and fellowship and love in the whole family circle.”77

A woman’s decision: The Richards family

Eight days after Franklin Richards was sealed to his first wife, Jane, he married Elizabeth McFate. Frank explained that Elizabeth’s father, James McFate, “presented me his daughter Elizabeth” at the altar, then “Jane gave her to me” in a ceremony performed by Brigham Young.78 Jane assessed that her co-wife was “young, (about 17 and pretty) and amiable.” Jane was, in fact, appreciative of the fact that Elizabeth was “very considerate—and kind to me; never in our associating together was there an unkind word between us.” Jane elaborated:

I was in delicate health and from the time she first entered my house, three or four days after her marriage, she seemed only concerned to relieve me of trouble and labor. She was ready to take hold and do anything, always asking me for direction. We lived in our two story brick house, she occupying the upper portion. To those in the church who knew of the doctrine, I always spoke of her as Mrs. Elizabeth Richards, but even [then] it was not publicly talked about. I knew of other families, at this time, living in polygamy, but as yet it was a new thing.79

Jane suggests that she did not fully appreciate how far and wide polygamy had spread by 1846 in Nauvoo, involving some two hundred polygamous families, or about 10 per cent of Nauvoo’s population, as already discussed in chapter 4.80

Even though males were given social preference in the community and could choose as many wives as they wished if they remained in good standing, Jane fantasized about choosing her own husband upon remarrying after her first spouse died. While “the man can be sealed to as many wives as he pleases,” she found a loophole for a widow, who would also be “at liberty to make that choice.” She could choose her second husband as her eternal mate “if she feels that her second husband is her preference,” she reasoned. Jane seems to reflect a woman’s desire to compensate for the injustice of men having greater liberty in choosing spouses.

Jane and Franklin were committed to their unique bond even within polygamy. “Previous to Mr. Richards taking a plural wife,” her interviewer explained, “she had made him promise that any matter that concerned any one of them individually should be always talked over with him in private.” So far, he had “lived up” to that promise. He “told her that he would not marry” additional women “if he did not think she would love his wives as much as he himself.”

When asked if the other wives in the family had objected to Frank’s subsequent choices for brides, Frank answered that the family had encountered no such difficulties. Jane had heard of instances where the man had resorted to strategy, first talking to the wife who was “likely to prove refractory” before consulting any others or even waiting until a wife’s “confinement” (pregnancy) or the delivery of a child when she would be too busy to care. In the Richards family, Franklin spent so little time at home, the issue of which wife he may have favored was of secondary concern. Jane reported that “in the first 15 years of her married life he was away on missions 10 years.” She said that if she were to “divide [her] time with other wives, when [he was] away 9 weeks in 10,” she could “dispense with the money,” alluding to how household expenses were divided according to how many people were in each house, apparently a little extra being allotted to feed Frank when he was with one of his wives.

Sometimes the first wife was in a position to mentor a young woman and play the role of a matchmaker. A young girl came to Jane for a job and Jane found her a place in another house. In a few months, according to plan, the young woman “married the master of the house; and the two wives had two daughters with but 12 days’ difference in their ages.”81

Family interconnections

Joseph Smith sought to connect his loved ones to other families through cross-family marriages to form a close, interrelated hierarchy. Those who came after him saw the value in this practice. Women found a sense of elite belonging when Smith invited them to join the secret religious order he had started among the high-ranking priesthood men. This Quorum of the Anointed was the repository of the secrets of plural marriage. All of the members initiated into this secret society knew of, and accepted, polygamy. Most were practicing polygamists. When plural families included biological sisters, mutual understanding and trust were expected.

Widows and orphans were offered family support by polygamous men. In 1835, Henry Sherwood married Jane McManagle as his second wife. Jane had been married previously to Nathaniel Stoddard and Arza Judd, both of whom had died. She brought with her three stepdaughters, Arza’s children by another wife: Lois, Mary, and Rachel. All three sisters married the polygamist John Page.82 Like their mother, they had been considered unattractive marriage candidates except for the polygamous system, which had a way of finding a place for everyone, including a twice-widowed woman and three orphans. This more-or-less guarantee was something Brigham Young argued was an advantage of plural marriage.

Sixty Nauvoo men, about one-third of all male polygamists, married sisters over the course of their lives. The popularity of the practice is masked by some men marrying more than one pair each, taking seventy-six sets of sisters in all. The sisters were distributed as five pairs for Heber Kimball; four pairs each for Joseph Smith and Brigham Young; three sets for John Lee; and for Clayton, Higbee, G. A. Smith, and Taylor, two sets per husband. Through mid-1844 the Nauvoo men acquired a total of thirteen sets of sisters. Through the rest of the Nauvoo period, they acquired another thirty-one sets. The rest joined their families after the migration to Utah. These biological sister-wives were considered to be, far from incestuous, a theological extrapolation on the levirate tradition of the Old Testament, whereby a man was obligated to marry his brother’s widow.83

After William Clayton married his legal wife’s sister as his first plural wife, in 1843 he asked Smith for permission to marry a third sister. Smith offered an impromptu reply that taking more than two sisters of a family was forbidden. Such a limitation was absent in the instances of Theodore Turley and John Page, previously cited, although normally several sisters would marry different husbands. The three daughters of Alva and Sally Beaman were examples. Mary Adeline married Joseph Noble in 1834 as his first wife and her two sisters married Joseph Smith and Erastus Snow, respectively.

Perhaps to care for older women, many polygamists married their wives’ mothers prior to the trek west. This produced unique family histories: “On the 19th day of January, 1846, David [Fullmer] was sealed to Sarah Sophronia [Oyster]banks and her mother, Margaret Philips. The sealing to Margaret Phillips was later revoked and cancelled.”84 John L. Butler married a third wife, Sarah Lancaster, on February 3, 1846. Three days later he married her mother. However, he found that she “was too old and feeble to go on such a journey as it was to Salt Lake,” so he sent her “back to Indiana.”85

Female subordination

In their domestic relations, plural husbands tended to occupy a role as king of the household. For Heber Kimball, the subordination of women was a popular topic, a matter of order and decorum. As his ninth wife, Mary Ellen Able, explained, when Heber brought a new woman into the family he liked to stage a ritual whereby his wives symbolically gave their consent to the marriage by forming a line and symbolically passing her up to him. This was to “stop the[ir] mouths,” Heber said in his characteristically brash way, reminding them that he would “keep what he ha[d] received in peace.” Like a man’s relationship to God, the woman’s responsibility, he said, was to anticipate what the man wanted, to allow her desires to be “swallowed up in his will” and “impregnated with his will and spirit” in order to “become one in spirit.”86

Israel Barlow echoed:

In all the Kingdoms of the world you will find that there will be only one King. All will be governed as one great family; and every man will preside over his own family. … You and your children will rise up and administer to your children and children’s children, and you will rule over your posterity, and they may increase into tens, hundreds, thousands, and millions. Yet all will finally join with Adam, who will be King of all under Christ.…This is the order of the Kingdom of Heaven, that men shall rise up as Kings and Priests of God. We must have posterity to rule over.87

Examples of Nauvoo families

Lorenzo Snow described his life in Nauvoo with four plural wives in accounts collected by his sister Eliza. He said his “humble family mansion was a one-story edifice, about 15 by 30, constructed of logs, with a dirt roof and brown floor, displaying at one end a chimney of modest height, made of turf cut from the bosom of Mother Earth.” For light during dinner they “selected the largest and fairest turnips—scooped out the interior, and fixed short candles in them, placing them at intervals around the walls, suspending others to the ceiling above, which was formed of earth and cane.” During the evening they “served up a dish of succotash” and entertained themselves with “short speeches, full of life and sentiment, spiced with enthusiasm, appropriate songs, recitations, toasts, conundrums, exhortations, etc.”

By the time they left for Pisgah, Iowa, Snow’s family was “composed of the following individuals: Mary Adeline [Goddard] (my eldest wife) … Charlotte [Squires], Sarah Ann [Prichard], [and] Harriet Amelia [Squires]…[A]ll of the wom[e]n above-mentioned were sealed to me as my wives in the Temple at Nauvoo, where we all received our second annointings,”88 a ceremony that guaranteed a place in the Celestial Kingdom, similar to the Protestant doctrine of predestination. Erastus Snow, Lorenzo’s cousin, and his wife Artemisia arrived in Nauvoo in April 1839 just a few months after their marriage. They were separated for long periods of time while Erastus was away on preaching assignments. In 1843 they built a home “with means Artemisia had acquired from her father’s estate. It was while they were in this home that Artemisia gave her consent to Erastus’ marriage to Minerva White, her close friend.” Snow’s biographer asserted that Artemisia was dedicated to “this difficult principle” and was “the soul of cooperation in wishing Erastus to inherit the blessings of eternal glory through a large posterity.”89 In 1878 this advocate of polygamy spoke before a large gathering of women at St. George, Utah. The speech was printed in the Woman’s Exponent. She said:

I have reared a large family in the marriage system. I have been the mother of 11 children. My husband has been the father of 35, [with] 26 now living, all equally honorable inasmuch as they might pursue an upright, righteous course through life. Of that number, there are 16 sons.

Not one of them has ever committed any crime that has brought a stain upon the character or a dishonor upon the heads of their parents. Not one of them is given to tickling [the palette with spirits] or drunkenness, not one smokes or chews tobacco, and as fast as they arrive at mature age, [they] earn their living by the sweat of the brow, or by the labor of their own hands.Why should they not be honorable? Their father is an honorable man. He is honored with that priesthood that emanates from the Gods.

We have children born in the new and everlasting covenant of marriage, who are walking in the footsteps of their father and mothers. And, I trust, will honor it. My sister, Louise Beaman, next older than myself, was the first woman given in plural marriage. She lived and died a good, faithful Latter-day Saint, true to the principles she embraced and is now rejoicing with her husband, our beloved Prophet, in the eternal worlds. If I can walk in her footsteps, imitate her example, attain that glory and exaltation that I believe she has, I will be satisfied.

It looks very odd to me nowadays to see a man living alone with one wife, especially a middle-aged man. It does very well for new beginners, just starting out on the journey of life to begin with one, and then add to. But to see a man in the decline of life, I say it looks odd. It looks selfish, contracted, drawn up into a nutshell.90

Artemisia was outspoken and strong-willed, while Erastus’s second wife, Minerva, was noteworthy for her domestic neatness and formality. When speaking to others, “she always referred to her husband as ‘Mr. Snow.’” Particular about her dress, she “kept her curly hair plastered close to her head because she did not like the curls.”91 She and Artemisia were close friends, the two of them living together with their husband.

After Erastus joined the 1847 pioneers in the Great Salt Lake Valley, he returned for his family and married sixteen-year-old Elizabeth Ashby, whom he had met six years earlier. She apparently thought he was the “handsomest man she had ever seen.” Erastus would have thirty children by these three women and six more children by another nine wives. With such an expansion in the marriage, it would be difficult to maintain the cohesion his family had known in Nauvoo. In Salt Lake City, Elizabeth lived in a tent and wagon box until a home could be constructed for her. Her husband built what he called his “big house” on the corner of First North and Main Streets, but this was not just for his wives; it doubled as a hotel. Here Elizabeth was renowned for entertaining “salesmen, cattlemen, and mining men, who were pleased with her cheerful disposition and the good food and comfortable, clean rooms which she furnished.”92

Helen Callister was the second wife of Thomas Callister, the father of thirty-two children and about 500 grandchildren. She staunchly defended her marriage:

To raise my voice in public has never been a source of much embarrassment to my sensitive nature…[D]uty and justice demand that my voice should now be heard[,] and would that my words of faith in the defence of my religion might re-echo and find an accordance in the heart of every true-hearted woman through the length and breadth of our country. I know the principle of Plural Marriage to be a truth. I have lived in polygamy for the last thirty-three years and was among the first to enter that sacred principle. I have shared hunger, poverty, and toil with my husband’s first wife whom I love as a dear sister: together we trod the trackless wilds to reach these then sterile valleys; together we battle[d] the hardships of the “first year,”…I have see[n] my husband stagger for want of food. I have heard my babies cry for bread and had nothing to give them … [but] through those trying scenes[,] ties closer than those of sister-hood bound us together and the principle of plural marriage was firmly planted in our souls.93

As another example of the friendship shared by wives, Vilate and Sarah Kimball were each about seven months pregnant with Heber’s children in October of 1842 when Vilate wrote to him. He was on his mission in southern Illinois defending the reputation of Joseph Smith against allegations of polygamy. She expressed her love for Heber’s second wife, “our friend S,” writing that “as ever, we are one.” Her sister-wife, Sarah, added this postscript:

Your kind letter was joyfully received. I [have] never read it [a letter from you,] but I received some comfort and feel strengthened, and I thank you for it. You may depend upon my moving as soon as the house is ready. I feel anxious as I perceive my infirmities [pregnancy] increasing daily. Your request with regard to Sister Kimball I will attend to. Nothing gives me more pleasure than to add to the happiness of my friends; I only wish that I had more ability to do so. I am very glad we are likely to see you so soon, and pray that nothing may occur to disappoint us. When you request Vilate to meet you, perhaps you forget that I shall then stand in jeopardy every hour, and would not have her absent for worlds. My mind is fixed and I am rather particular, but still, for your comfort, I will submit. “I am as ever.”94

Disputes among wives

Not all plural relationships were warm and caring. Tension between husbands and wives over subsequent, younger wives permeated the writings of several of Nauvoo’s plural families. Twenty-two-year-old David Sessions, born in Vermont, married his seventeen-year-old sweetheart, Patty Bartlett, on June 28, 1812, in Oxford County, Maine, not far from her birthplace in rural Bethel. Over thirty years later, David and Patty, both in their fifties, welcomed younger women into their household. In October 1845, David married thirty-year-old Rosilla Cowen, who was twenty years younger than Patty. The first wife poured out her thoughts and feelings to her diary. Her relationship with Rosilla was strained even from the start and deteriorated further over time. Ten months into the compound marriage, writing from Winter Quarters on the first Sunday in August 1846, Patty told her diary that “Mr. Sessions took Rosilla and asked me to go to the river[,] then took her and waided across the river [and] left me on this side[.] [He] was gone 2 or 3 hours…I went back to the wagons[.]”95

On Monday, September 7, Patty wrote, “Mr Sessions is more kind to me”; but she was upset the next day because he had “talked with Rosilla and she filed his ears full and when he came to my bed I was also quite ch[il]led[,] he was gone so long[,] and I was so cold [and] had been crying.” She wrote that he had begun to “talk hard to me before he got into bed and thretens me very hard of leaving me[.] Oh may the Lord open his eyes and show him where he is deceived by listening to her false tales,” she wrote.96 Patty tried to talk with Rosilla, but the younger woman was “very abusive,” Patty wrote. On Sunday, October 25, “Mr. Sessions and I had a talk with Rosilla[. S]he was very willful and obstinate,” so “he told her to come into the tent and if she did right she should be used well.” At this, Patty expressed exasperation: “I told her it was a big cud for me to swallow to let her come in after she had abused me so shamefuly.” Patty made sure that David “knew she had abused me worse than I had her.”97

Patty hinted at another issue common to some plural families, insisting that if Rosilla became part of the family, Patty “should be boss over the work.” Patty considered Rosilla to be insubordinate, saying she had “twisted and flung at” her sister wife.98 The subject of work resurfaced a few days later. Patty said she

got but 2 hours sleep last night and I have cut the meet of the bones of the beaf and salted it[.] I have to work all the time and[,] not withstanding all he has said to her about helping me[,] she…gave me the lie many times and talked very saucy to me and when I could bear it no longer I told her to hold her toungue and if she gave me the lie again I would thro[w] the tongs at her[. S]he then talked very saucy to me[,] [so] I told her there was the tent door and she might walk out if she could not cary a better toungue in her head.”99

Rosilla continued to resist domestic chores. The next day “she came into the tent but will not work[.] I cook[,] she eats.” Nevertheless, David seemed to spend more time with Rosilla than with Patty: “He has lain with her three nights[;] she has told him many falsehoods and is trying to have him take her to Nauvoo and then to Maine and leave me for good.” Patty stopped speaking to Rosilla, but the second wife claimed the first had quarreled with her all day. Patty reported that Rosilla had not done one thing to help her, then “said [she would] if I would ask her[.] I then asked her to clean the dishes[.] I waited 3 hours she then went over the river and never touched them.” When Rosilla returned, according to Patty, she was again “very saucy to me [and] said she would eat but she would not work for me.”100

Given the circumstances, the women decided the best resolution was for Rosilla to stay permanently on the opposite side of the river. On Friday, November 20, Patty recorded that “Mr. Sessions went over the river to see Rosilla” and “staid all night.” A week later “Rosilla came back here[,] sais she is going back to the Missis[s]ip[p]i river [and] she left word for Mr. Sessions to come over and see her,” a message Patty was not eager to convey. On Sunday “he went over at night and staid with her.” Then, Patty wrote on Monday, November 30, that David “did not speak to me when he came home.” Patty concluded her contemporary observation of her sister wife on December 3, writing that Rosilla had “started for Nauvoo,” after which Patty, a midwife, delivered three children within a week, baked mince pies, and recorded an intrusion of “Mohakgh” Indians.101 In early 1850, Patty wrote in her diary that “Rosilla Cowin was sealed” to David Sessions four years previously on Oct 3, 1845, that Rosilla “left him” three years previously on December 23, 1846, and that they had “not seen her since.”102 Two years later, Patty’s son Perrigrine heard that Rosilla had married a man named “Baley.”103 And so Patty leaves us wondering how unique her experiences might have been but suspecting that in some ways her story was probably more representative than unusual.104

Secrecy and Security

Considering the explosive nature of what was unfolding, Joseph Smith, according to one of his plural wives, “lived in constant fear of being betrayed.”105 Jane Richards explained that when Smith married more women a few months before his death, he was compelled to do so without even the normal amount of what she called “publicity” because of the high level of “mob spirit,” where people were “already quite excited.”106 According to Mary Horne, the topic could “scarcely be mentioned” at first because “the brethren and sisters were so averse to it.”107 Joseph Lee Robinson put it bluntly: “There are some on this stand that would cut my throat or take my hearts blood,” he said, if he told them what God had revealed to him.108 This level of paranoia, which permeated the church at the time, indicates an appreciation of how heretical their secret beliefs and practices were. This is why, as Nancy Tracy recalled, Smith taught the “Celestial Order of Marriage” only to those who “could bear it.”109

Front husbands and concealed marriages

The same motif recurs in many stories about early polygamy. When the pregnancy of William Clayton’s first plural wife threatened public exposure, Smith told Clayton he might have to publicly excommunicate him.110 Sarah Ann Whitney engaged in a sham marriage to Joseph Kingsbury to conceal her connection to Smith. As previously quoted, he wrote in his autobiography that he “agreed to stand by Sarah Ann Whitney as though I was supposed to be her husband [in] a pretended marriage” (see chapter 3).111

When Smith died, Kingsbury and Whitney continued to live in the same household even though there was no longer a reason to keep up appearances. On January 26, 1845, they walked together to Parley P. Pratt’s store to receive their endowments. Kingsbury was being groomed to begin choosing his own plural wives. As he wrote in his journal, he “was Recd into the Corum of the Priesthood” and “Recd. instructions Verry Benefitial.” Initiation into this secret society entailed entrance into a “quorum” of men and women who periodically met together to engage in the endowment rituals. As Kingsbury put it, they “met…at times & offerd up Prayer.”112 On March 4, Kingsbury married Dorcas Moore. A few days later, on March 17, Sarah Ann was sealed to Heber Kimball for mortality, while her sealing to Smith for eternity was re-confirmed. In all of this, her marriage to Kingsbury was ignored. There was no divorce—no sense of a need to grant the sham marriage any further legitimacy. However, Sarah Ann continued living with Kingsbury. When she became pregnant with Kimball’s child, it naturally appeared to be Kingsbury’s. Simultaneously, Kingsbury’s “plural” marriage to Moore was kept secret. Webs of appearances grew further tangled.

In January the next year, Kingsbury married Louisa Loenza Alcina Pond. On the same day, he was sealed to his deceased wife, Caroline Whitney, and Dorcas Moore, her proxy. Two days later, on January 28, he received the “ordinances of the fulness of the priesthood” or “second anointings for himself and his three eternal wives, meaning that they were now guaranteed resurrection to the celestial kingdom,” as explained by biographer Lyndon Cook. In a stark change in surroundings from the furtive former marriages in secluded rooms and gardens, Kingsbury now knelt, kinglike, on “the scarlet, damask cushions of the alter in the upper northeast room of the [Nauvoo] temple” and was “ordained a priest and anointed a king unto God,” his two living wives Dorcas and Louisa “anointed priestesses and queens unto their husband.”113

A year after the refugees from Nauvoo founded their temporary settlement near present-day Omaha, Nebraska, which they called Winter Quarters, Patty Sessions wrote in her diary in mid-1847: “I cal[l]ed to Sarah Ann[’s] this evening with E R Snow[.] [S]isters Whitney and Kimbal came in … [T]hings were given to us that we were not to tell of but to ponder them in our hearts and profitt thereby … E [Louisa] Beamon[,] E Pa[r]tri[d]ge[,] [and] Zina Jacobs came here [and] laid their han[ds] on my head [and] blesed me, and so did E Snow[,] thank the Lord.”114 The bond formed by their formerly unspoken marriages to the same husband, Joseph Smith, had drawn these women close together.

Sharing a code of silence

In the winter of 1845-46, polygamy moved briefly out of the shadows as the ostensibly secret marriages were shared with the general church membership. John D. Lee confirmed that “in the Winter of 1845 meetings were held all over the city of Nauvoo” to teach “celestial marriage.” He told of men scrambling to add wives to their families, then discovering incompatibilities and wanting to renegotiate relationships. In a few instances, men made exchanges between themselves, trading one woman for another. All of this was done under the continuing censorship of public discussion outside of the few, strictly guarded church gatherings. It was a confusing time. People “had to be kept still” lest they reveal anything to an outsider, and this meant that “a young man [still] did not know when he was talking to a single woman.”115 Making the same point from a woman’s perspective, Eliza Partridge wrote that “a woman living in polygamy dared not let it be known.”116 Jane Richards corroborated the fact that the winter of 1845-46 was when “polygamy was now made known to us for the first time.” Her take was different than John Lee’s, in that Mrs. Richards thought, “while the majority of the church were made acquainted with the doctrine, it was only practically entered into by a few.”117

Leonora Cannon Taylor advised Mrs. Richards to be vigilant in keeping her marriage troubles to herself. Jane was “not [doing] very well” in polygamy, but Leonora encouraged her, saying: “You have too much pride and grit to let any of your domestic trials be known to the world.” Richards would pass on this “code of silence” to a younger woman, telling her with some satisfaction that “as long as she had lived in polygamy she had never spoken to any one of her troubles or allowed that she had any trials.”118

John D. Lee felt no such qualms about divulging emotional complications or in revealing the underlying political corruption he detected in the system:

Now the first wife of D. H. Wells [Louisa Free] … and her sister Emmeline re both under promise to be sealed to me. One day Brigham Young saw Emmeline and fell in love with her. He asked me to resign my claims in his favor, which I did, though it caused a great struggle in my mind to do so, for I loved her dearly.…The two girls did not want to separate from each other; however, they both met at my house at an appointed time and Emmeline was sealed to Brigham and Louisa was sealed to me.…By Louisa I had one son born who died…She lived with me about one year after her babe was born. She then told me that her parents were never satisfied to have one daughter sealed to the man highest in authority and the other below her. Their constant teasing caused us to separate, not as enemies, however. Our friendship was never broken. Her change made her more miserable than ever. After we got into Salt Lake Valley, she offered to come back to me, but Brigham would not consent to her so doing. Her sister became a favorite with Brigham, and remained so until he met Miss Folsom, who captivated him to a degree that he neglected Emmeline, and she died broken-hearted.119

Celestial indoctrination

Hosea Stout recorded in his diary how Lee himself had helped to indoctrinate others in plural marriage. On April 19, 1845, Stout was “sent for by Brother Lee who wanted to see me,” upon which Stout witnessed Lee’s double marriage to Louisa Free and Sarah Caroline Williams. Stout wrote that the following day “myself and wife Lucretia Fisher went to Br John D. Lee’s to a Social meeting…Prest A Lyman, Br Lee & wife & others were present.” Stout did not divulge that on this date, at Lee’s house, Stout married Lucretia, as he felt bold enough to list in his family Bible. Two months later on June 30, Stout went to the home of Charles Shumway, where a large crowd had gathered. “We [drank] what wine we wanted,” Stout wrote.This time, he neglected to mention that this was the occasion of his second plural marriage uniting with Marinda Bennett. His biographer detected in this reticence “evidence of how secret it was.” Neither Stout nor Lee felt able to articulate Lee’s double marriage on April 19 or Stout’s marriages in April and June.120 Only the genealogical sheets of Stout’s Bible were considered safe enough to preserve a record of these solemnities.121

Lee explained that even though “the ordinance of celestial marriage was extensively practiced,” only a relatively “few men” in comparison to the general population “had dispensations granted to them” to transcend the normal constraints on sexuality. He firmly believed that plural marriage was “the stepping-stone to celestial exaltation.” He said that “without plural marriage, a man could not attain to the fullness of the holy priesthood and be made equal to our Saviour. Without it he could only attain to the position of the angels, who are servants and messengers who attain to the Godhead.” Lee felt that the inducement to become one of the council of gods in heaven “caused every true believer to exert himself to attain that exalted position, both men and women.” He reported that the women would often initiate plural relationships in order to attain royal credentials for an aristocratic afterlife: “In many cases the women would do the ‘sparking,’ through the assistance of the first wife.”122

John D. Lee recorded that marriage in Nauvoo was discounted to the point that two men in one of his examples got together and “mutually agreed to exchange wives,” thinking nothing of it. Lee gave as an example Lorenzo Young and a Mr. Decker, who “both seemed happy in the exchange.”123 Lee suggested that plural marriage required the permission of the president of the church; but eventually local leaders assumed this responsibility, as cited in the example of Orange Wight. Either way, this represented a significant departure from Smith’s pleading with his male friends to take more wives when, in the late Nauvoo period, each man was left to determine for himself how many times he would marry. After amassing many wives over two decades, Lee stopped. “After 1861 I never asked Brigham Young for another wife,” he wrote. By his nineteenth wife, he had had enough. Even from a financial standpoint, fathering sixty-four children formed a formidable natural barrier to engaging more wives.124

Polygamy after Joseph Smith’s Death

The demographic impact of Nauvoo polygamy on the culture of the west, including the five-fold expansion after Joseph Smith’s death, cannot easily be minimized by ignoring the extent of commitment that grew out of the Nauvoo period over the next forty years. The impact of reaching this critical mass can be seen today among the fundamentalist Mormons, who continue to remind us of the church’s historical image.

While the journals and personal writings tell a complex human story, the raw numbers themselves add some precision to the overall picture. In 1844 the number of plural marriages rapidly increased. In the autumn, Brigham Young took twelve wives; Heber Kimball, thirteen; Parley Pratt, three;William Clayton, two; and George A. Smith, one. William Smith married three wives sometime during that year. Of the sixty-eight plural marriages in 1844, forty-nine (about two-thirds) took place after Joseph Smith’s death. Only eleven of these were women who had previously been married to the prophet.

Plural marriages accelerated even more in 1845, when (1) it became clear the church would leave the United States and members would be beyond the reach of the law and (2) the Nauvoo temple opened its doors on December 10. When Young urged the highest ranking members to set a good example, the inner circle of thirty-three polygamous men now broadened to nearly two hundred.

Added to eighty-six marriages in 1845, the early months of 1846 witnessed 275 more plural couplings, an amazing number considering that most were performed in January and February. During this wedding marathon, Heber C. Kimball acquired nineteen wives; Brigham Young, eighteen; Samuel Bent, nine; John Bernhisel and Alpheus Cutler, six each; John Taylor, Willard Richards, and John Smith, five each; and Winslow Farr, Peter Haws, Cornelius Lott, and George A. Smith, four each. Seven other men married three wives each, thirty-eight men took two wives each, and some eighty-seven added one more wife to their families. By the end of the Nauvoo period, 196 men had married 717 women. Over 80 percent of the city’s plural marriages had occurred after Smith’s death. As a necessary qualifier, the wives of Smith, Kimball, and Young constituted over one-fifth of the total number of plural wives: 115 of 521. Heber referenced the disproportionate number of wives he married when Vilate died. At her funeral, he pointed to the coffin and said: “There lies a woman who has given me forty-four wives.”125

In the realms of American social history, Joseph Smith’s experience with plural marriage was distinctive. His thirty-eight wives lived apart hired help. His followers in Nauvoo, by comparison, married fewer wives per husband and formed more coherent families. Of the thirty-three male polygamists in Nauvoo during Smith’s life, the majority, a full twenty of them, had only two wives each. Four had only three wives per man. Willard Richards, Theodore Turley, and Lyman Wight had four wives each; Brigham Young had five. As the number of polygamous families increased in 1846, so did the number of wives per family, growing to an average of 3.7 wives per husband for a given polygamous family. The tendency continued in Utah. Thomas Callister was near the average in that he remained a twenty-four-year-old bachelor in Nauvoo until 1845, when he married two women. He married two more in Utah and became “the husband of four wives and had,” as he phrased it in his autobiography, “a posterity of 32 children and about 500 grandchildren of various degrees of relationship.”126


In April 1830 when the church was founded, Joseph Smith was twenty-four. (Oliver Cowdery, one of his three witnesses, was twenty-three.) Of his eight witnesses, there were three in their twenties and three had turned thirty that year. In 1830 the men who would be called to the original Quorum of Twelve Apostles were still an average of twenty-four years old, the same age as Smith.127 The founders of Mormonism were young men.

Joseph Smith initiated a social system that appealed to deeply held human concerns. People want to be counted among the elite, the initiated few, the chosen of God or, as Joseph promised, to be given the unheard of opportunity to become as gods themselves. Some women yearn to marry powerful men; some men seek the comforts of several women. At the same time, the social-religious mechanism which made men and women special as plural families destined for a celestial kingdom was repugnant to some, violating the deepest moral values of many Latter-day Saints who, for a while, were left in the dark along with their Illinois neighbors. It was inevitable that “rumors” of polygamy among the Saints would spread within a year of Smith’s first formal induction ceremony. He could hold off non-Mormons at the perimeter, but when his own people in Nauvoo rebelled—John Bennett in 1842, William Law in 1843-44— he was in trouble at home. Joseph had already fled three states under pressure that arose, in part, from suspicious relationships with young women. Perhaps he could have anticipated the violence coming to his kingdom on the Mississippi from his Illinois neighbors; but a homegrown assault was too much to endure. As town mayor in 1844, he had the city council order the destruction of the printing press and the suppression of the only edition of the Nauvoo Expositor the dissenters at home would print. His own colleagues took Joseph Smith to court and published his marital relationships in the newspaper, thereby revealing all that he had publicly denied. Suppression of a newspaper without due process brought a swift response from the Illinois authorities. On June 25 they arrested the prophet for violating freedom of the press: he had destroyed the newspaper without allowing the publishers to defend themselves.

When the Saints moved west beginning in 1846 and 1847, the United States expanded westward as well. In 1848 the United States and Mexico signed the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, augmented in 1854 through the Gadsden Purchase and confirmed by the treaty of Mesilla. When the winds settled, the Mormons were once more on United States soil, no longer part of the Mexican territory called Upper California. Mexican land that had once included present-day Utah was redefined as American territory.128 In January 1848 Brigham Young went back from the Great Salt Lake to Winter Quarters (Nebraska) to be sustained for the first time as president of the LDS Church. From there he organized the substantial “emigration of 1848.” Four years later, as Salt Lake City was still emerging from the desert floor, polygamy was publicly announced as official church doctrine.

The announcement came from the pulpit of the “old tabernacle,” which was a simple adobe building with a barn-like roof, not yet a year old and much more modest than its famous successor with the oblong metal roof. In summer, meetings on Temple Square, which did not yet boast of a temple, were still held in the thatched-roof bowery.129 Five years after the announcement of polygamy, U.S. troops were sent to the territory. In those days, it still took a month or more to send a letter to the east coast, so the war unfolded slowly, only gradually permeating the land. Over the next two decades, through the Civil War, the church played a cat and mouse game with the United States. Having fought a war to end slavery, the federal government went after the second “relic of barbarism.” Polygamy went back into hiding.

Having come full circle—denial, secrecy, discovery, open advocacy, secrecy, and denial again—the next step for the Latter-day Saints was to forget they had ever countenanced polygamy. Rather than explore this curious, and perhaps most fascinating aspect of its esoteric past, the church mounted an effort to dispel plural marriage from memory. However, as Latter-day Saints began discovering a renewed interest in their past, they reconstructed the lives of their ancestors, and this “lost” chapter of the church’s pilgrimage from east coast to west began to make more sense. That the church had sought to disclaim this colorful aspect of its past became motivation to locate primary documents—diaries and affidavits—in dusty attic spaces and from the shelves of church archives which were tended by wary gatekeepers.

Joseph’s “celestial marriage” became a term referring to all temple marriages rather than to sacred plural wifery, which had been the key to afterlife kingdoms on distant planets where husbands would raise multiple families. Contemporary church officials would come to disclaim polygamy as “not a part of us,” or only as an aspect of begrudging permission that had been given to frontiersmen to assist their journey across the plains. No longer a critical part of celestial exaltation, this keystone of Joseph’s restoration of the ancient church would be dismissed in the twentieth century as unacceptable, a violation of the “Christian” code of behavior.

This is the diminished legacy of Joseph’s amplified life which is not found in official church histories but is now available to be restored to the expurgated History of the Church. Historians now can place in more complete perspective Smith’s determined willingness to share the favors and privileges of celestial marriages with his Nauvoo inner circle. This once secret practice, denied publicly but recorded privately in diaries and journals, forms a lost, indeed, a suppressed, history that is present in the original documents.


Notes to Introduction:

1Daniel Meyerson, The Linguist and the Emperor: Napoleon and Champollion’s Quest to Decipher the Rosetta Stone (New York: Ballantine Books, 2004), 26.

2Robespierre had guillotined Josephine’s former husband in the French Revolution.

3Joseph Smith to “Brother and Sister, [Newel K.] Whitney, and &c. [Sarah Ann],” Nauvoo, Illinois, August 18, 1842, Joseph Smith Collections, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), Salt Lake City, Utah.

4Smith to James Arlington Bennett, Nov. 13, 1843, in Joseph Smith et al., History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B. H. Roberts, 2nd ed. rev., 7 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1963), 6:74, 78.

5Moroni, son of Mormon, writes as he completes and buries the record of his father: “And now, behold, we have written this record…in the characters which are called among us the reformed Egyptian” (Morm. 9:32, in Joseph Smith Jr., trans, The Book of Mormon [Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1951], 475).

Notes to Chapter Six.

1Emmeline B. Wells to Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner, Feb. 10, 1887, LDS Archives.

2Wells to Lightner, Mar. 12, 1889, LDS Archives.

3Robert P. Cooper, “Martha Jane Knowlton Coray and the History of Joseph Smith by His Mother,” 1965, an eighteen-page typescript, photocopy in possession of Lavina Fielding Anderson; Lavina Fielding Anderson, ed., Lucy’s Book: A Critical Edition of Lucy Mack Smith’s Family Memoir (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2001), 12, 31-34, 125, concludes that Lucy “omits” mention of the practice of polygamy because she “knew women who were her son’s plural wives and names nine of them or their relatives in her history.”

4“Reminiscences of Mrs. F[ranklin] D. Richards [Jane Snyder Richards],” San Francisco, 1880, Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley; Carol Cornwall Madsen, In Their Own Words: Women and the Story of Nauvoo (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1994), 176.

5“Autobiography of Sarah S. Leavitt, from her history,” ed. Juanita Leavitt Pulsipher, June 1919, 23, Utah State Historical Society Library, Salt Lake City.

6Orange Lysander Wight, untitled reminiscence, 1903, LDS Archives.

7Mary Ellen Able Kimball, “Sketch of Pioneer History,” 1895, LDS Archives.

8Helen Mar Whitney, “Scenes and Incidents in Nauvoo,” Woman’s Exponent II (July 15, 1882): 26.

9Ibid., Aug. 1, 1882, 39.

10Andrew Karl Larson, Erastus Snow: The Life of aMissionary and Pioneer for the Early Mormon Church (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1971), 747.

11Ibid., 87, 745-51.

12Andrew Jenson, “The Twelve Apostles: Amasa M. Lyman,” Historical Record 6 (Jan. 1887): 130-31.

13Albert R. Lyman, Amasa Mason Lyman: Trailblazer and Pioneer from the Atlantic to the Pacific (Delta, Utah: Melvin A. Lyman, 1957), 114-15.

14Brigham Young Manuscript History, Feb. 16, 1849, LDS Archives;William S. Harwell, ed., Manuscript History of Brigham Young, 1847-1850 (Salt Lake City: Collier’s Publishing Co., 1997), 158.

15Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. (London: Latter-day Saint’s Book Depot, 1854- 86), 24:230-31.

16B. H. Roberts, The Life of John Taylor (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1963), 101.

17William Clayton, Affidavit, Feb. 16, 1874, in “Affidavits [on Celestial Marriage], 1869-1915,” a collection consisting of six folders compiled by Joseph F. Smith, LDS Archives. George D. Smith, ed., An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton (Salt Lake City: Signature Books and Smith Research Associates, 1991), 557-59.

18Madsen, In Their OwnWords, 200-03, citing Elizabeth AnnWhitney’s reminiscence, “A Leaf from an Autobiography,” Woman’s Exponent 7 (Dec. 15, 1878): 105.

19Scott G. Kenney, ed., Wilford Woodruff ’s Journal, 1833-1898, 9 vols. (Midvale, Utah: Signature Books, 1983-85), 2:341-43; see also Joseph Smith et al., History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B. H. Roberts, 2d ed. rev., 7 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1963), 6:183-85.

20Thomas G. Alexander, Things in Heaven and Earth: The Life and Times of Wilford Woodruff, a Mormon Prophet (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1991), 124-25; Kenney, Wilford Woodruff ’s Journal, 3:111-12.

21John C. Bennett, The History of the Saints: Or an Exposé of Joe Smith andMormonism (1842; Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000), vii. Bennett’s charges are summarized in Andrew F. Smith’s introduction to the 2000 edition.

22David Fullmer, Affidavit, June 15, 1869, Salt Lake County, in “40 Affidavits on Celestial Marriage,” 1869.

23David Fullmer et al., Affidavit, Oct. 10, 1869, Salt Lake City, in “[Affidavits]

Book No. 2,” 1869-1870.

24Thomas Grover, Affidavit, July 6, 1869, Salt Lake City, in “40 Affidavits on Celestial Marriage,” 1869.

25James Allred, Affidavit, Oct. 2, 1869, Utah County, in “40 Affidavits on Celestial Marriage,” 1869.

26Leonard Soby, Affidavit, Mar. 23, 1886, Salt Lake City, in “Affidavits [on Celestial Marriage], 1869-1915.”

27Jenson, “Plural Marriage,” 227-28, citing the Ogden Herald, Jan. 1886.

28Howard Coray, Affidavit, June 12, 1882, Salt Lake County, in “Affidavits [on Celestial Marriage], 1869-1915.”

29Charles C. Rich, Affidavit, July 12, 1869, Salt Lake County, in “40 Affidavits on Celestial Marriage,” 1869.

30Juanita Brooks, John Doyle Lee: Zealot, Pioneer Builder, Scapegoat (Salt Lake City: Howe Brothers, 1984), 56-57.

31Ibid., 64-65.

32Amos Fielding, Affidavit, Salt Lake County, in “40 Affidavits on Celestial Marriage,” 1869.

33John Benbow, Affidavit, Aug. 28, 1869, County of Salt Lake, in “40 Affidavits on Celestial Marriage,” 1869; also quoted in Jenson, “Plural Marriage,” 222-23.

34Brooks, John Doyle Lee, 65.

35Ibid., 65-66.

36John Doyle Lee, Mormonism Unveiled: Or the Life and Confessions of the Late Mormon Bishop, John D. Lee, Written by Himself (St. Louis: Bryan, Brand & Co., 1877), 166-67.

37Brooks, John Doyle Lee, 378-84.

38Wayne Stout, Hosea Stout: Utah’s Pioneer Statesman (Salt Lake City: By the author, 1953), 48.

39Journal History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Oct. 9, 1845, LDS Archives; History of the Church, 7:481; see also Harold Schindler, Orrin Porter Rockwell: Man of God, Son of Thunder (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1966).

40Warsaw [Illinois] Signal, Dec. 10, 1845.

41Merlo J. Pusey, Builders of the Kingdom: George A. Smith, John Henry Smith, George Albert Smith (Provo: Brigham Young University Press, 1981), 48.


43Bathsheba W. Smith, Autobiography, 13, LDS Archives.

44Ibid. See also Pusey, Builders of Kingdom, 24-25.

45Smith, Autobiography.

46Linda Newell, “Women’s Reaction to Early Mormon Polygamy, 1841-45,” LDS Archives.

47Gary James Bergera, “Identifying the Earliest Mormon Polygamists, 1841-44,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 38 (Fall 2005): 4.

48John Henry Evans, Charles Coulson Rich: Pioneer Builder of the West (New York: MacMillan, 1936), 91-96. See also Leonard J. Arrington, Charles C. Rich: Mormon General and Western Frontiersman (Provo: Brigham Young University Press, 1974).

49Ibid., 96-97. Rich later asserted: “It is just as natural for a girl to marry an old man, as it is to marry a young one, provided both parties have their agency and choice; and the girls would do better in many instances, to marry good and tried men, if they were old, than to marry young, and thoughtless, boys, who would get drunk [at] every opportunity” (John R. Patrick, “The School of the Prophets: Its Development and Influence in Utah Territory,” M.A. thesis, Brigham Young University, June 1970, 118).

50Sarah DeArmon Pea Rich, Autobiography, LDS Archives.

51Mary Phelps Rich, “Autobiographical Sketch,” cited in Evans, Charles Coulson Rich, 110.

52Evans, Charles Coulson Rich, 111.

53Joseph Lee Robinson, Journal, 10-11, Utah State Historical Society Library.

54Untitled autobiographical sketch by Mercy Rachel Fielding Smith Thompson, Dec. 20, 1880, LDS Archives.

55Margaret Peirce Young, Journal, 1903, MS 5716, LDS Archives.

56Statement of Mrs. L. W. Kimball (typescript), Bancroft Library, University of California; see also microfilm of holograph, LDS Archives and in Lyman Omer Littlefield, Reminiscences of Latter-day Saints (Logan, Utah: Utah Journal Co., 1888), 48-49.

57Ibid., 7, 8.

58Ebenezer Robinson to Jason W. Briggs, Jan. 28, 1880, LDS Archives.

59“Reminiscences of Mrs. Richards”; Madsen, In Their Own Words, 176.

60Matilda G. Bancroft, “The Inner Facts of Social Life in Utah,” an interview with Jane Snyder Richards, San Francisco, 1880, Bancroft Library.



63Carol Cornwall Madsen, “Emmeline B.Wells: Romantic Rebel,” in Supporting Saints: Life Stories of Nineteenth-Century Mormons (Provo: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1985), 309.

64Carol Cornwall Madsen, “Emmeline B.Wells: ‘Am I Not aWoman and a Sister?’” BYU Studies 22 (Spring 1982): 176-77, quoting George Q. Cannon in Journal of Discourses, 13:207.

65Emmeline B. Wells, Diary, Feb. 20, 1845, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.



68Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints v. Church of Christ of Independence, Missouri, et al. 60 F. 937 (W.D. Mo. 1894), deposition testimony (question 450), electronic copy prepared by Richard D. Ouellette.

69Ibid., question 466. For the “biological basis of social behavior,” see “Sociobiology,” Encyclopedia Britannica 2008, on-line at www.britannica.com.

70Andrew Jenson, “George Albert Smith,” Historical Record 5 (Dec. 1886): 101.

71Heber C. Kimball to wives Ann, Amanda, Lucy, and Sarah Ann Kimball, Dec. 31, 1855, LDS Archives.

72“A brief sketch of the Life & History of Margaret Thompson Smoot,” LDS Archives.

73Olive Amanda Smith Markham, biographical sketch, LDS Archives.

74“A Brief Sketch of the Life of Rhoda Ann Marvin Fullmer,” Nov. 29, 1885, Fullmer Family Notebook, 73, LDS Archives. If the women had been asked where they had heard about the “law of Sarah,” they would have answered that it was in the revelation on plural marriage, at least after it became D&C 132 in 1876 (see vv. 64-65). However, the revelation makes only passing reference to this “law of Sarah” and even then puts it in a negative light, stating that if a woman refuses to consent to polygamy, she is a “transgressor” and her husband is therefore free to take whomever he chooses as a wife.The emphasis on the woman’s right to ascent or be damned was exaggerated even further in commentaries (see Orson Pratt’s 1854 essay in the New York Messenger, later reprinted in the Seer, quoted in Richard S. Van Wagoner, “Sarah M. Pratt: The Shaping of an Apostate,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 19 [Summer 1986]: 83-84).

75John Clifton Moffitt and Frederick Walter Cox, “Frontiersman of the AmericanWest,” 4, LDS Archives.

76Joseph Fielding, Journal, 1832-59, 178, LDS Archives.

77Erastus Snow to Eliza [Snow], Salt Lake City, Aug. 7, 1887, LDS Archives.

78Franklin L. West, Life of Franklin D. Richards (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1924), 58.

79“Reminiscences of Mrs. Richards,” 18-19.

80Estimating 200 husbands plus 700 wives and about 200 children yields about 1,100 people in polygamous families, or ten percent of an 1845 population of 11,000, which was approximately the same in 1846.

81Bancroft, “Inner Facts,” 1-18.

82Joseph Fielding Smith, Blood Atonement and the Origin of Plural Marriage: A Discussion (Salt Lake City: DeseretNews Press, 1905), 49-50; Justin E. Page letters to P. A. Watts, Mar. 16, 1936, and Wilford Poulson, Mar. 20, June 11, Sept. 12, 1936, Wilford Poulson Papers, Perry Special Collections; D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power (Salt Lake City: Signature Books and Smith Research Associates, 1994), 567-68; Arza Judd, Jane McManagle, Henry G. Sherwood Ancestral File, www.familysearch.org. A note at the bottom of John E. Page to Brigham Young, 1845, bx 41, fd 2, Brigham Young Collection, LDS Archives, suggests that Page was excommunicated “for adultery[.] J E P whored it with a Miss Bliss from Boston.” In a circular way, the note is quoting another annotation at the bottom of Joseph Smith III to Joseph F. Smith, June 30, 1883, Joseph F. Smith Collection. However, Page’s first wife, Mary Eaton, was interviewed in 1904 and confirmed that “John E. Page [did] have [other] wives than [herself] … he wanted them[,] and I gave them to him … in the days of the Prophet Joseph Smith” (Council of the Twelve, minutes, May 5, 1954, Alma Sonne Collection, Msf, 678, #2, bx 3, fd 5, LDS Archives).

83For the law of the levirate, see James R. Baker, Women’s Rights in Old Testament Times (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1992), 51, 142-43, 147, 151-53.

84E. Nilson Raymond, comp., “The Fullmer Family,” typescript, 7-8, LDS Archives.

85John L. Butler, Autobiography, 48, LDS Archives.

86Mary Ellen Able Kimball, 1818-1902, MS 42182, LDS Archives. Heber preached that “the man was created, and God gave him dominion over the whole earth, but saw that he never could multiply, and replenish the earth, without a woman. And he made one and gave her to him. He did not make the man for the woman; but the woman for the man, and it is just as unlawful for you to rise up and rebel against your husband, as it would be for man to rebel against God. When the man came to the vail, God gave the key word to the man, and the man gave it to the woman. But if a man dont use a woman well and take good care of her, God will take her away from him, and give her to another” (Devery S. Anderson and Gary James Bergera, eds., The Nauvoo Endowment Companies, 1845-1846: A Documentary History [Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2005], 120).

87Ora H. Barlow, The Israel Barlow Story and Mormon Mores (Salt Lake City: By the Author, 1968), 212.

88Eliza R. Snow Smith, Biography and Family Record of Lorenzo Snow (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1884), 92-3. D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power (Salt LakeCity: Signature Books, 1997), 701, has Charlotte, Mary, and Harriet married in 1844 and Hannah Goddard, sister of Mary Adeline, married and separated in 1845, then remarried in 1849.

89Larson, Erastus Snow, 746.

90Ibid., 747-48.

91Ibid., 350.

92Ibid., 749-52.

93Helen Mar Clark Callister, Statement, LDS Archives; see also “Important Incidents in the Life of Thomas Callister,” 13, LDS Archives.

94Whitney, “Scenes and Incidents,” Woman’s Exponent II (June 1, 1882): 2.

95Donna Toland Smart, ed., Mormon Midwife: The 1846-1888 Diaries of Patty Bartlett Sessions (Logan: Utah State University Press, 1997), 60.

96Ibid., 61.

97Ibid., 64.


99Ibid., 65.

100Ibid., 65.

101Ibid., 67-68.

102Smart, Mormon Midwife, 142. Smart notes that later in 1850, Perrigrine would see Rosilla.

103Ibid., 67n127. Perrigrine Sessions, Diary, Nov. 3, 1852, LDS Archives.

104For example, recall Emily Partridge’s view of Joseph’s first wife, Emma, as “our bitter enemy” (Emily Dow Partridge Young, “Diary and Reminiscences, 1874-1899,” 6, Perry Special Collections; cf. Jenson, “Plural Marriage,” 240; Emily Partridge Young, “Autobiography,” Woman’s Exponent, Dec. 1884-Aug. 1885; Reorganized Church v. Church of Christ, question 365).

105Littlefield, Reminiscences, 50.

106“Reminiscences of Mrs. Richards,” 18.

107Mary Isabella Hales Horne, “Migration and Settlement of the Latter Day Saints,” 1884, typescript, Utah State Historical Society, from 42-page holograph, Bancroft Library.

108Robinson Journal, 24, Utah State Historical Society Library.

109“A Sketch of the Life of Nancy Naomi Tracy,” 20, Utah State Historical Society.

110Smith, Intimate Chronicle, 122.

111“History of Joseph Kingsbury, Written by His Own Hand, 1846, 1849, 1850,” Utah State Historical Society, photocopy, original holograph and typescript at Marriott Library.

112Lyndon W. Cook, Joseph C. Kingsbury: A Biography (Provo,Utah: Grandin Books, 1985), 89; for an overview of how the endowment was introduced, see Devery S. Anderson andGary James Bergera, eds., Joseph Smith’s Quorum of the Anointed, 1842-1845: A Documentary History (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2005).

113Cook, Joseph C. Kingsbury, 93-94.

114Smart, Mormon Midwife, 84; see also Linda King Newell, “Gifts of the Spirit: Women’s Share,” Sisters in Spirit: Mormon Women in Historical and Cultural Perspective, ed. Maureen Ursenbach Beecher and Lavina Fielding Anderson (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987), 111-15.

115John Lee added that “many a night” he had stood guard for Brigham Young “while he spent an hour or two with his young brides” (Mormonism Unveiled, 165-72.)

116Eliza Maria Partridge Lyman, Autobiography and Diary, 1846-1885, LDS Archives.

117“Reminiscences of Mrs. Richards,” 19.

118Bancroft, “Inner Facts,” 17-18.

119Lee, Mormonism Unveiled, 166-67.

120Brooks, John Doyle Lee, 66-67, dates this narration to May 19-20, 1845, whereas the Stout Family Bible cites April 19-20. See Juanita Brooks, ed., On the Mormon Frontier: The Diary of Hosea Stout, 1844-1861, 2 vols. (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press and Utah State Historical Society, 1964), 1:21, 22, 35n60, 50.

121Ibid., 35n64, 50n12.

122Ibid., 166.

123Ibid., 165.

124Ibid., 288-89.

125Orson F.Whitney, The Life of Heber C. Kimball, an Apostle: The Father and Founder of the British Mission (Salt Lake City: Kimball Family, 1888), 436n. Whitney affirms that Kimball was the husband of forty-five wives and father of sixty-five children.

126“Important Incidents,” 13.

127Peter Whitmer was 25 and Martin Harris 46. Of the eight witnesses, Samuel Smith, John Whitmer, and Peter Whitmer Jr. were 22, 28, and 21 respectively. Hiram Page, Hyrum Smith, and Jacob Whitmer were coincidentally all 30 years of age. Joseph Smith Sr. was 59. For the Quorum of the Twelve, Joseph Smith chose young men who were about his same age, but four were still teenagers the year the church was founded. Although the quorum was not organized until 1835, for the sake of comparison their ages on April 6, 1830, were: John F. Boynton, 18; Orson Hyde, 25; Luke S. Johnson, 22; Lyman E. Johnson, 18; Heber C. Kimball, 28; Thomas B. Marsh, 30; William E. McLellin, 24; DavidW. Patten, 30; Orson Pratt, 18; Parley P. Pratt, 22; William Smith, 19; and Brigham Young, 28.

128The land acquired through the Gadsden Purchase in southern New Mexico was where the Mormon Battalion, led by U.S. Captain Philip St. George Cooke, had found a passable road for wagons in 1846-47. Their trail would become the westbound route of the Santa Fe Railroad. The Territory of Utah was created in 1850 when California became a state and Utah was carved out of its western edge. The maps from the previous decade had referred to the area as the Great Sandy Plain of Upper California, then part of “New Mexico” (Bernard DeVoto, The Year of Decision, 1846 [Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1943], 491; maps of the AmericanWest from 1841, 1842, 1845, and 1846, on-line at David Rumsey Map Collection, www.davidrumsey.com).

129Nelson B. Wadsworth, Set in Stone, Fixed in Glass: The Mormons, the West, and Their Photographers (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1992), 19, 20, 64.