Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (part 2)

I read about the following information in this book:

Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith by Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery (Doubleday, 1984).

It would appear that Joseph first introduced the subject of plural marriage through a revelation received near Jackson County, Missouri, on July 17, 1831. You can read it here.

Newell and Avery suggest that although Joseph seems to have believed that he was commanded by God to establish plural marriage he was not given specific instructions as to it's implementation. They go on to outline how this made things very difficult for Emma.

Mary Elizabeth Rollins married Joseph Smith in Feb of 1842 at the age of 24. Rollins recounts a conversation between herself and Joseph in 1831 when she was just 12 years old. She said Joseph "told me about his great vision concerning me. He said I was the first woman God commanded him to take as a plural wife." ( Mormon Enigma p.65. Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner to Emmeline B. Wells, summer 1905, LDS Archives).

Less than 6 months later Emma and Joseph moved into the John Johnson home. (See this post) Newell and Avery suggest that "Perhaps Joseph was not discreet in his discussions about plural marriage, because rumor and insinuation fed the fury of the mob that tarred and feathered him. When the Johnson boys joined the mob that entered their own home, they clearly suspected an improper association between Joseph and their sixteen-year-old sister, Nancy Marinda." (Mormon Enigma p. 65).

"William E. McLellin, a member of the Twelve wrote in an 1872 letter about an incident related to him by Frederick G. Williams in 1838. McLellin wrote that Joseph "committed an act with a Miss Hill--a hired girl" : near the time of Joseph III's birth. "Emma saw him and spoke to him... he desisted, but Mrs. Smith refused to be satisfied. [Joseph] called in Dr. Williams. O. Cowdery, and S. Rigdon to reconcile Emma. But she told them just as the circumstances took place. He found he was caught. He confessed humbly, and begged forgiveness. Emma and all forgave him. She told me this story was true". " (Mormon Enigma pp. 65-66).

Around the time of the birth of Emma's second son, Frederick, a similar incident occurred. Fanny Alger came to live with Emma and Joseph as a hired girl. She was 19 years old at the time. It is claimed that Joseph married Fanny in 1836. In an 1872 letter McLellin wrote that Emma noticed both Fanny and Joseph missing one night, and went to look for them. She "saw him and Fanny in the barn together alone. She looked through the crack and saw the transaction!!!" (Mormon Enigma p. 66). Newell and Avery further explain that "Joseph's theology may have allowed him to marry Fanny, but Emma was not ready to share her marriage with another woman. When Fanny's pregnancy became obvious, Emma forced her to leave." (Mormon Enigma p. 66).

The incident drove a serious wedge between Oliver Cowdery and Joseph. Oliver wrote to his brother "When [Joseph] was here we had some conversation in which in every instance I did not fail to affirm that what I had said was strictly true. A dirty nasty, filthy affair of his and Fanny Alger's was talked over in which I strictly declared that I had never deviated from the truth in the matter... just before leaving, he wanted to drop every past thing, in which had been a difficulty or a difference--he called witnesses to the fact, he gave me his hand in their presence". (Mormon Enigma p. 66).


So, here is just the tip of the iceberg. I feel sick. Can you imagine Emma hugely pregnant, then going through labour, recovering, looking after a newborn... meanwhile Joseph is off with some teenager!

Did Joseph come up with an ingenious way to satisfy his sexual desires? A theology including plural marriage. No adultery, they were married, how very legal and happy for everyone!

And the mens club!! let's shake hands and be friends again. Never mind the deplorable way we treat our women, us men can rise above the muck!

Tell me your thoughts people. What is your reaction? Do you want to spit chips like me? Do you feel incensed? or can you accept it?


  1. My thoughts:
    Like most people, polygamy makes me uncomfortable. On the other hand, I think that the evidence is extraordinarily complex, and from what I've read, I don't think it can be waved away as the product of Joseph's libido.
    I don't think that sex was ever the primary motivation for polygamy - my understanding of the evidence leads me to believe that Joseph really thought he was doing something that God wanted him to do. Whether or not he was right is a whole other topic.

  2. I think that the evidence is complex because it was a secretive practice at first. I imagine that people were told not to talk or write about it. Taking this into account I think that the evidence that does exist is quite convincing in terms of it's sinister nature, i.e marrying women who were young, already married, and the big one - without Emma's knowledge or consent.

    As for motive, that certainly is harder to prove. Because I am so disgusted by the situation it is easy for me to say that Joseph must have been satisfying his own lusts. However, I am open to the idea that he really believed that he was commanded by God (due to delusion, Schizophrenia... ). He is a complex man, it is a complex situation, hence titles like 'Mormon Enigma' and 'The Prophet Puzzle'. But aren't we all. I look at what Emma had to put up with and I see no good excuse for it. No god that I could believe in would ever subject his own daughter to such insults.

  3. But thanks for your thoughts :) I know that there are many who want to see the best in Joseph. Heck, we're spoon-fed the idea of this awesome prophet from 18 months of age! if not younger.

  4. Religious polygamy, according to LDS scripture, is to raise up seed, so of course it is about sex.

    Polygamy (or any relations) between consenting ADULTS is okay in my book. But this is not what Joseph did.

    Either god is not worthy of worship (if he commanded/allowed such nonsense) or Joseph was a fraud. Yes, this black and white thinking is brought to you courtesy of just about every modern prophet ("It's all true or it's a fraud").

  5. And Joseph didn't 'raise much seed'...Emma lost 6 children in infancy (including one adopted son), 6 lived to be adults (including one adopted daughter). LDS apologists don't acknowledge any children between Joseph and his polygamous wives. Most of his wives refused to confirm or deny whether they had given birth to his children.

    Why couldn't their own first husbands 'raise seed' with them, why did they need a second husband?

    Consenting adults, exactly. There was a fair amount of coercion going on, "God has commanded me (and you)", "..or you will be destoyed", "or you will lose your eternal inheritance" etc.

    Plus, the first wife did not always know about the additional wives before the marriages. It was a very deceptive affair.

  6. I had one heck of a time finding some sources for my response. (Yes, I am from Utah we do say "heck" here. Although, I have found real swearing more satisfactory lately, but I digress.)

    The Church really does not want to talk about it, but polygamy seals the deal for many people that have problems with Joseph Smith and the Church.

    In 1998, Gordon B. Hinckley had an interview with Larry King. Finding the transcripts for this interview turned out to be quite a challenge. The only places I could find that actually posted the transcript are websites opposed to the Church. Sorry that I could not find a more neutral source. Here is a link to the transcript.


    In this interview (quite a ways down), Hinckley says about polygamy, "I condemn it, yes, as a practice, because I think it is not doctrinal."

    I find this interesting that a modern-day prophet just before Monson would say that polygamy is "not doctrinal". Should Section 132 be removed from scripture? Did he really mean that or just get caught up in the moment? Frustrating, eh?

  7. Was Hinckley hinting that he believed Joseph Smith to be a 'fallen prophet' or was he tactfully/sneakily saying that he condemned it as a modern day practice since it is not currently doctrinal to practice it. I'm not sure that Hinckley's statement rules it out for future practice. BUt again, what do I know. I think Hinckley's statement is very vague. If he really was condemning the practice then you are quite right hairguy, section 132 should be removed (or cut in half at least).. it's such an awful piece of work. I have a feeling we're dealing with a similar situation to the changes to wording on the temple. There are certain things being kept because there are practices that are meant to be reintroduced at some later date.

    Thanks for digging up the link to the transcript though! Very interesting, and useful.

  8. From what I've seen, most cults seem to involve some kind of 'law' by which the leader is permitted to sleep with whomever he wishes. Often it seems that the leader is, themselves, convinced by their own lie (many have suffered abuse or other psychological problems in the past) but they nevertheless are using their powers of persuasion for their own ends. Unlike man, God does not change. He has told us in the past that adultery is wrong and that each man should have only one wife. I believe God's word no matter how many charismatic leaders may stand up claiming to have 'divine' authority to alter it. In the end, we will all(Joseph Smith included) have to stand before God and be judged for breaking His law. Our only hope of salvation is to repent and surrender our lives to Him while we have the chance. John 3:16

  9. I'll certainly agree with you that Joe Smith was either deluded or a con artist. I'm all for monogamy, I love the loyalty and the closeness... but I am not about to tell anyone that that is the only way. All I want is for everyone to be able to make their own choices. Religion does not offer that. Religion tells you what to do and then tries to make you feel bad if you don't do it. I don't believe in any of this 'salvation' or 'repentance' business anymore. Even if I were to believe in a God he/she would be far more liberal than your statements of "our only hope" and "while we have the chance" suggest. Don't be so hard on yourself, remember "God is Love" or so I've been told. If we're going to believe in a god we can't prove let's at least believe that he/she really does love us!