Joseph Smith and Plural Marriage

By Loyal to the Word

 

         The doctrine of plural marriage is one of the ancient principles of the Gospel restored by God through the instrumentality of Joseph Smith. Polygamy, or “plural marriage” as it is more commonly called in the Church, is the practice of having more than one marriage partner. For better or for worse, plural marriage is one of the things that Mormons are best known for. Polygamy is actually an umbrella term, and simply means marriage to more than one person. Polygyny in particular, which is virtually always what people are referring to when it comes to Mormonism, is the practice of a man having multiple wives. Polyandry, the case of a woman having more than one husband, on the other hand, has not been typical to Mormonism. Except for some polyandrous marriages which Joseph Smith entered into, polyandry is almost completely alien to the history, doctrine, and practice of the Church, and in all cases polyandrous unions do not continue as such in the eternities. What is the justification for the odd practice of plural marriage? How should members of the Church feel about it? These questions, as well as the plural marriages of Joseph Smith, will be discussed in this article. NOTE: The reader should understand that this author is not in any way supportive of polygamy practiced outside the Church or since the 1890 Manifesto; he is however in full support of the practice of plural marriage within the Church, from its initiation by Joseph Smith until the 1890 Manifesto.

 

Plural Marriage is Accepted of God

 

         Many people are appalled by the idea of plural marriage because of deep-rooted Victorian values surrounding the idea of marriage. Yet the Judeo-Christian tradition has a foundation of plural marriage. The scriptures are clear to any person who cares to take them at face value that God approves of the practice of plural marriage. Abraham, the father of the faithful, the friend of God, the man whom God chose from among a wicked and heathen people to make his covenants with because of his personal righteousness, was a polygamist. His first wife Sarah “took Hagar her maid the Egyptian…and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife” (Gen. 16:3). In his old age, after the death of Sarah, Abraham married at least one other wife, who was named Keturah, but he also had concubines at this time, by which he had sons born to him (Gen. 25:1-6).
         Was Abraham evil? If the practice of plural marriage were sinful, then Abraham certainly would be a wicked man. But the Lord Jesus Christ declared that Abraham would be found saved in the Kingdom of Heaven. He said, “many shall come from the east and the west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 8:11). According to the Old Testament, at least two of the distinguished men mentioned in that saying of Jesus were polygamists (i.e. Abraham and Jacob. Modern revelation confirms that Isaac was also a polygamist – see D&C 132:1). Yet that passage clearly says that those men will be in heaven, and that we will be privileged if we are permitted to join them. It should also not be forgotten that the place of the righteous dead was referred to as “Abraham’s bosom” (Luke 16:22). Jesus also declared to the self-righteous, “If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham…[but] Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do” (John 8:39,44). This saying of Jesus indicates clearly that if we want to inherit eternal life, then we should imitate the example of a righteous man like Abraham. And yet, the man Abraham was a polygamist. He was a polygamist but his life and works had the approval of Jesus Christ himself, our Lord and Savior. It follows from this that no one can rightfully accept Jesus Christ as the Messiah without accepting the principle of plural marriage as a true and virtuous practice. Let this author repeat that statement loudly and clearly: No one can accept Jesus Christ without accepting plural marriage.
         The story doesn’t end with Abraham. His grandson Jacob, was also a polygamist, and of whom the Old Testament reports he had four wives (Gen. 29-30). God made covenants with Jacob as he did with his father and his grandfather (Gen 28:10-16). From this man’s polygamous relationships sprang the House of Israel, God’s chosen people. God’s promises to mankind are completely intertwined with plural marriage. Can we consider that God is opposed to the practice? If so, then why choose Israel as his people?
         Moses, the great law-giver of Israel, the man to whom God chose to reveal himself and set as a mouthpiece, was also a polygamist, even according to the Old Testament. It reports that his wife’s name was Zipporah (Ex. 2:21). Yet it also says frankly that “he had married an Ethiopian woman” other than Zipporah (Num. 12:1). Modern revelation confirms that Moses also had “many wives and concubines” as did Abraham before him (D&C 132:1).
         The references to plural marriage continue through the Old Testament, but there is one more reference that is particularly significant for understanding God’s attitude toward plural marriage. In the scriptural account of David, another polygamist of the Old Testament, the Lord says explicitly that “I gave thee…thy master’s [i.e. David’s] wives into thy bosom” (2 Sam. 12:8). And so here we have the Lord positively and explicitly confirming the fact that he initiated the practice of plural marriage personally, by giving David his wives. Because of his sin in the murder of Uriah the Hittite, David lost the privilege of those wives and they were given by the Lord to another who was more righteous (2 Sam. 12:9-12). According to this scripture, the Lord gave multiple wives to individuals as a reward for righteous behavior. Would the Lord be giving multiple wives to favored individuals if he did not approve of such a practice?
         The corollary of this discussion is obvious: God approves of the principle of plural marriage. The reader should recall that God does not change with time. “For I am the LORD, I change not” (Mal. 2:6). If God approved of plural marriage thousands of years ago, under proper conditions, then there is no reason why he would not do so in the latter days.

 

Plural Marriage – Only When Authorized

 

         Now that it has been established beyond doubt that God approves of plural marriage, it is needful to mention that God does not always authorize it. The Book of Mormon declares that monogamy is the standing rule, “For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people [to practice plural marriage]; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things [i.e. the practice of monogamy]” (Jacob 2:30, emphasis added). This indicates clearly that plural marriage has been authorized off and on throughout the history of the human family. It is often said by critics that the Book of Mormon denounces polygamy, but those that declare this always blatantly ignore the passage just cited. It is true that the Book of Mormon says, “David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing is an abomination before me, saith the Lord” (Jacob 2:24, emphasis added), but we are given to understand elsewhere that “in nothing did they [David and Solomon] sin save in those things which they received not of me [i.e. God]” (D&C 132:38). That is, many of “David’s [and Solomon’s] wives and concubines were given unto him by me [i.e. God]” (D&C 132:39), but they did take wives which God did not commission for them to take. This was the ‘abominable’ part of their practices (Jacob 2:24), not the plural marriage itself.
        The Doctrine and Covenants also declares that monogamy is the basic standing practice. It says, “it is lawful that he [man] should have one wife, and they twain shall be one flesh, and all this that the earth might answer the end of its creation; And that it might be filled with the measure of man, according to his creation before the world was made” (D&C 49:16-17). But this does not at all preclude plural marriage if it is God’s will to initiate it. It merely states that marriage is ordained of God and that a man should have at least one wife.
         Perhaps a large reason of why plural marriage is so taboo is the fact that it is particularly open to abuse by people who have unscrupulous motives. Modern-day polygamists, for instance, whose sects are break-offs of the true Church, often use fear and control techniques to dominate over their wives. They use manipulation and exercise power to force women into marriage against their will. The women are not permitted to leave their husbands or the religious sect. In contrast to this, powerful polygamist leaders of the true Church were divorced by wives when the women so willed it. Of Brigham Young
’s 55 wives, 10 obtained divorces (Jeffery Ogden Johnson, Determining and Defining ‘Wife’: The Brigham Young Households,Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol. 20, No. 3, p. 62 ). One of Joseph F. Smith’s five wives obtained a divorce from him. Furthermore, of Heber C. Kimball’s 45 wives, 16 of them eventually left him, presumably because of their dissatisfaction with the marriage arrangement and their necessarily casual associations with their husband (Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, p. 127). Compulsion and control is therefore the mark of Satan-inspired polygamist relationships. Their clear motive would appear to be sex-based or power-based in many cases, instead of religious-based and love/charity-based. When plural marriage is unauthorized, those who illegitimately practice it are guilty of serious sin and will go to hell, since “they understand not the scriptures, for they seek to excuse themselves in committing whoredoms, because of the things which were written” (Jacob 2:23). When polygamy is entered into on an unauthorized basis, it is tantamount to adultery and fornication in the eyes of the Lord.

         When the reader thinks of plural marriage in relation to the true Church, they should refrain from conjuring in their minds images of modern-day polygamist sects who trap young women into marriages against their will and exercise strong control over their lives. This is a gross distortion of the true practice of plural marriage. Plural marriage can be practiced in a righteous and healthy way. This is evident from the fact that God so commanded such relationships with the ancient patriarchs, as recorded in the Old Testament.
         It is God’s will that the practice of plural marriage not be operative among his people at the present time. Though plural marriage was restored by prophecy in the last days and is an integral part of the restoration of the Gospel, its practice is currently put on hold. Strong political forces in the United States combined against the Church because of the issue of plural marriage. The Church fought the discriminatory laws against polygamy to the bitter end, since it was clearly an infringement of First Amendment Rights of the Constitution, wherein it guarantees: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. Church leaders were forced into hiding to escape arrest over this bogus law. Plural marriage was practiced openly by the Church from 1852, when it was first formally announced in Conference (JD 1:53-66), to 1885, but from 1885 to 1890, those engaged in plural marriage went into hiding to avoid arrest (BYU Studies, Vol. 33 (1993):p. 350). However, in time, in order for the work of the Lord to proceed, God saw it appropriate to again suspend the practice of plural marriage. President Woodruff, the mouthpiece of God at the time of this occurrence in 1890, stated in the famous Manifesto, “Inasmuch as laws have been enacted by Congress forbidding plural marriages, which laws have been pronounced constitutional by the court of last resort, I hereby declare my intention to submit to those laws, and to use my influence with the members of the Church over which I preside to have them do likewise…I now publicly declare my advice to the Latter-day Saints is to refrain from contracting any marriage forbidden by the law of the land” (D&C – Official Declaration 1). For some time there was some confusion about whether or not the Church’s prohibition against plural marriage applied to countries outside of the United States. But in 1904, President Joseph F. Smith declared in a “Second Manifesto” that the Church was officially ceasing plural marriage worldwide (Allen & Leonard, The Story of the Latter-day Saints, p. 447-448). This was brought on by the intense investigations surrounding the seating of Reed Smoot, a monogamous apostle of the Church, in the United States Senate.
         Interestingly, even in the highest levels of Church authority, the practice of plural marriage died hard. In 1905, Elder Matthias F. Cowley and Elder John W. Taylor (son of John Taylor) were both forced to resign from the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles because of suspicion of polygamist sympathies during a time in which the Church was under significant scrutiny. “Plural marriage still failed to recede entirely, even in the face of the now resolute policy of President Smith and later President Grant. Elders Cowley and Taylor, for instance, each received further discipline for additional plural marriage activity, the former being ‘disfellowshipped,’ while Taylor, after taking an additional plural wife, was excommunicated” (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, p. 632). As just indicated, because of their continued defiance, Elder Cowley was disfellowshipped in 1911, and Elder Taylor was excommunicated in the same year. (Interestingly, however, Matthias F. Cowley’s son, Matthew Cowley, was called into the Quorum of the Twelve in 1945 and served with distinction, earning the reputation of an electrifying speaker.) And finally, in 1943, apostle Richard R. Lyman was excommunicated when it was discovered that he was having sexual relations with a woman with whom he had planned to contract a sealing with that was reminiscent of a plural marriage sealing arrangement (see Gary James Bergera, 
Transgressions in the Latter-day Saint Community: The Cases of Albert Carrington, Richard R. Lyman, and Joseph F. Smith — Part 2: Richard R. Lyman, Journal of Mormon History, 37 (4): 173–207). Interestingly, Elder Lyman was the son of Francis M. Lyman, who was president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles from 1903 to 1916, and the grandson of Amasa M. Lyman, another excommunicated apostle.

 

Sex is Not Inherently Evil

 

         The most scandalous aspect of plural marriage for many people is the fact that it involves the man having sex with more than one marriage partner. The major, often unrecognized, obstacle that keeps many from accepting the principle of plural marriage is the wide-spread belief that sex is somehow, by its nature, inherently wrong or bad. Because sex is pleasurable, and is vulnerable to being indulged in improperly, it is erroneously thought by many to be shameful, embarrassing, and a bad thing. Even many Latter-day Saints are hindered by this false notion. The simple truth is that sex is only wrong when done outside of its proper context - marriage. Otherwise there is not a thing wrong or bad about it. The scriptures confirm this truth. They say, “Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge” (Heb. 13:4). This means that when sex occurs between married people, there is no impropriety whatsoever.
         If the Puritan-style belief that sex is wrong or shameful can be discarded, then a lot of the uncomfortable feelings surrounding the issue of plural marriage can be overcome. Remember that in the beginning, God commanded the first husband and wife to “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish [i.e. fill] the earth” (Gen. 1:28). This involves sex, and was a strict command of the Lord. 
         To put things into perspective, it should be remembered that the Gods themselves partake of sex, and propagate children in the eternities, to have “a continuation of the seeds forever and ever” (D&C 132:19). Sex is a normal and even holy part of being human, as long as it is done within the proper context – marriage.
         A quote by Joseph F. Smith, himself a polygamist, will be helpful here. He said, “Sexual union is lawful in wedlock, and if participated in with right intent is honorable and sanctifying. But without the bonds of marriage, sexual indulgence is a debasing sin, abominable in the sight of Deity” (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, p.309).

 

Is Plural Marriage Adultery?

 

         Many confuse plural marriage with the awful sin of adultery, because it involves sexual relations with more than one person. But the very definition of adultery is simply a married person having sex with a person to whom they are not married. In the case of plural marriage, however, all of the individuals engaging in sex are married to each other by a holy authority, thus plural marriage by definition cannot possibly be adultery. Moses, the servant of God, gave the Ten Commandments to the Children of Israel, the seventh of which states, “Thou shalt not commit adultery” (Ex. 20:14). And yet later, Moses gave direction to the Children of Israel regarding the principle of plural marriage (Ex. 21:10; Deut. 21:15-16). Did Moses command a prohibition against adultery and then turn around and administer rules to regulate an adulterous relationship? That is an absurd notion. Plural marriage is therefore clearly not adultery, and especially not in God’s view.
         From the foregoing it is very clear that sex with multiple women is not wrong if all of them are legitimately married to the man. Let our readers recall once again that the Lord’s word says, “Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled” (Heb. 13:4, emphasis added). This applies to marriage with either one or multiple legitimate partners. Though the law of plural marriage is certainly unconventional, it is not by any stretch of the imagination the sin of adultery. In spite of what Victorian values would have us think, plural marriage is a legitimate family practice, and has been accepted as such from ancient times. The Prophet Joseph Smith recognized a clear distinction between plural marriage and adultery, having taught the former and condemned severely the latter. On November 25, 1843, the Prophet taught:

 

                                                               In the evening the High Council sat on the case of Harrison Sagers,
                                                               charged with seduction, and having stated that I had taught it was
                                                               right. Charge not sustained. I was present with several of the 
                                                               Twelve, and gave an address tending to do away with every evil, and 
                                                               exhorting them to practice virtue and holiness before the Lord;
                                                               told them that the Church had not received any permission from me
                                                               to commit fornication, adultery, or any corrupt action; but my every
                                                               word and action has been to the contrary. If a man commit adultery,
                                                               he cannot receive the celestial kingdom of God. Even if he is saved
                                                               in any kingdom, it cannot be the celestial kingdom. I did think that
                                                               the many examples that have been made manifest, such as John C. 
                                                               Bennett’s and others, were sufficient to show the fallacy of such a
                                                               course of conduct.
                                                               I condemned such actions in toto, and warned the people present
                                                               against committing such evils; for it will surely bring a curse upon
                                                               any person who commits such deeds.
                                                               (Joseph Smith, Encyclopedia of Joseph Smith’s Teachings, Dahl &
                                                               Cannon, ed., p. 29-30).


         Adultery usually consists of a flagrant disregard to a previous marriage relationship and covenants. When sought after it is almost always with the intent to obtain momentary pleasure without any of the accompanying obligations. The entire point of adultery indulgence is to avoid responsibilities such as children and family life. Plural marriage, on the other hand, is all about family and family life, and is meant to honor the obligations of the previous marriage(s), and from the outset generally accepts responsibilities associated with the subsequent marriages, including responsibilities of children that result from the unions. If plural marriage were simply another mode of adultery, as some unenlightened people consider it, it would certainly be a very burdensome and especially inconvenient one.
         This whole concept of plural marriage certainly goes against the grain of traditional Victorian values on which Western society is based. Therein is the scandal and shock surrounding the whole issue of polygamy! But who would dare assume that Victorian values, which were invented by man, are superior to the Lord’s ways? Why should we judge an eternal institution like marriage by man-made norms and customs? Regarding marriage, Jesus said, “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Gen. 19:6). There are those who would insist that Victorian values are of a higher morality than the God-sanctioned law of plural marriage. But the moral code and moral standard originates from God. In other words, God decides what good and evil, and right and wrong are. Who is man, then, that he can tell God what is moral and what is not? Or as the scriptures say, “shall the thing framed say of him that framed it, He had no understanding?” (Isaiah 20:16).

 

John C. Bennett and Spiritual Wifery

 

         There is an instance in Church history where an abuse or distortion of the concept of plural marriage was put into effect. It highlights the difference between authorized plural marriage and the carnal sin of adultery. John C. Bennett, an ambitious and charismatic but deceitful man, converted to the Church in 1840. A man of apparent skill, Bennett was quickly granted a place as a counselor in the First Presidency by Joseph Smith. Unfortunately, Bennett exploited his position for sexual gratification. “Capitalizing on rumors and lack of understanding among general Church membership, [Bennett] taught a doctrine of ‘spiritual wifery.’ He and associates sought to have illicit sexual relationships with women by telling them that they were married ‘spiritually,’ even if they had never been married formally, and that the Prophet approved the arrangement [which he had not]” (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, p. 1093). After Bennett was exposed, he was excommunicated in 1842 and became a strong anti-Mormon. Upon Bennett’s defection, the hypocrite published an exposé of Mormonism, vilifying plural marriage and bringing the practice to light before the brethren of the Church felt it prudent to do so.
         What was wrong with Bennett’s actions doctrinally? It was, in effect, a perverse and fraudulent distortion of plural marriage. The biggest problem with Bennett’s “spiritual wifery” charade was that there was no real marriage relationship, thus constituting fornication and adultery. Another reason Bennett’s “spiritual wifery” was wrong was that it was done solely for sexual gratification, and not by revelation, and had no enduring quality to it, in this life nor the life to come. Therefore the motivation for “spiritual wifery” was nothing more than a means to justify fornication. In order for sexual relations to be justified, there must be a proper marriage. A marriage done with the sealing power of Elijah, as Joseph Smith had been given directly, is of course the most effectual.

 

Plural Marriage Acceptance is Essential for Salvation

 

         It is common for both members of the Church and people in general to be uncomfortable with the idea of plural marriage. This is largely due to the Western values that our society clings to - an effect of our cultural environment, as well as a general misunderstanding or mystery surrounding the details of how such a living arrangement should work. While such feelings of discomfort surrounding plural marriage are common even to Latter-day Saints, the faithful should strive to overcome such feelings. After all, as has been demonstrated in this article, it is a true and scriptural principle. Not only that, but it is a colorful part of our people’s history, not an embarrassment.
         Despite any discomfort that may exist, acceptance of the principle of plural marriage as being true doctrine is essential for salvation in the celestial kingdom. That doesn’t mean that we have to enter into its practice, but we have to believe that God and the prophets were doing right when they instituted it on the earth. If a person expects to inherit the highest degree of the celestial kingdom, they cannot walk around believing that God sporadically perpetrates an immoral lifestyle among his people, or that his servants the prophets were lustful or grossly mistaken on the point of plural marriage. This simply will not do. Those who disagree with plural marriage must come to terms with it for the sake of their own salvation. Speaking specifically about celestial marriage, and in particular the principle of plural marriage as a component of it, the Lord said, “For behold, I reveal unto you a new and an everlasting covenant; and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory” (D&C 132:4, emphasis added). In other words, no one can reject the principles of plural marriage as being false and yet inherit the celestial kingdom. Brigham Young declared, “Now if any of you will deny the plurality of wives, and continue to do so, I promise that you will be damned” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 3:266). If a person rejects the law of plural marriage, then they reject the Prophetic calling of Joseph Smith. The scriptures say, “But this generation shall have my word through [Joseph Smith]” (D&C 5:10). Therefore, if we reject Joseph Smith or the things he taught, we reject the Lord. Brigham Young taught us the following about how our acceptance of Joseph Smith relates to our salvation:

 

                                                               I have taught for thirty years, and still teach, that he that believeth
                                                               in his heart and confesseth with his mouth that Jesus is the Christ 
                                                               and that Joseph Smith is his Prophet to this generation, is of God;
                                                               and he that confesseth not that Jesus has come in the flesh and sent
                                                               Joseph Smith with the fulness of the Gospel to this generation, is 
                                                               not of God, but is anti-christ. All who confess that Joseph Smith is 
                                                               sent of God in the latter days, to lay the foundation of his
                                                               everlasting kingdom no more to be thrown down, and will continue
                                                               to keep his commandments, are born of God. All those who 
                                                               believe in their hearts and confess with their mouths that Joseph
                                                               Smith is a true Prophet, at the same time trying with their might
                                                               to live the holy principles Joseph the Prophet has revealed, are in 
                                                               possession of the Holy Spirit of God and are entitled to a fullness.
                                                               (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 9: 312 - 313)

 

         President Young also taught, in the much-misunderstood and much-maligned statement, “[N]o man or woman in this dispensation will ever enter into the celestial kingdom of God without the consent of Joseph Smith.”  That is, since Joseph Smith was God’s representative to the world for our generation, it follows that we must believe what he taught in order to be saved. Do you think Joseph Smith would give his approval for our salvation if we flatly rejected plural marriage, a principle which he, in effect, died for? Of course not. We could probably not find a person more passionate about the truth of plural marriage as it had been practiced anciently than Joseph Smith. President Young goes on,

 

                                                              From the day that the Priesthood was taken from the earth to the
                                                              winding-up scene of all things, every man and woman must have 
                                                              the certificate of Joseph Smith, junior, as a passport to their
                                                              entrance into the mansion where God and Christ are—I with you 
                                                              and you with me. I cannot go there without his consent. He holds
                                                              the keys of that kingdom for the last dispensation—the keys to rule
                                                              in the spirit-world; and he rules there triumphantly, for he gained
                                                              full power and a glorious victory over the power of Satan while he
                                                              was yet in the flesh, and was a martyr to his religion and to the
                                                              name of Christ, which gives him a most perfect victory in the
                                                              spirit-world.
                                                              (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 7: 289)

 

Is Plural Marriage Required in the Celestial Kingdom?

 

         The question often arises about whether plural marriage is essential in the celestial kingdom – that is, whether even currently monogamous couples must comply with plural marriage in the eternities. First of all, it should be recognized that many who are now living monogamously will have plural marriage relationships in the eternities. For instance, a man whose first wife dies and then remarries another, both of which were temple sealings, will be in this circumstance. Also, it is a strong possibility that there will be more women eligible for celestial inheritance than men, and they will require marriage to be saved in the celestial kingdom (D&C 131:1-4). Because of these circumstances and others, there will no doubt be many adjustments made in the eternities, and wives added here or there to celestial marriages, where the added wives’ original husbands have not been faithful. The teachings of Joseph Smith in this connection, as related to us by Lucy Walker, one of his plural wives, are thus:

 

                                                               He [Joseph Smith] often referred to the feelings that should exist
                                                               between husbands and wives. . . . He said men must beware how
                                                               they treat their wives. They were given them for a holy purpose
                                                               that the myriads of spirits waiting for tabernacles might have pure 
                                                               and healthy bodies. He also said many would awake in the
                                                               morning of the resurrection sadly disappointed; for they, by
                                                               transgression, would have neither wives nor children, for they
                                                               surely would be taken from them, and given to those who should 
                                                               prove themselves worthy. Again he said, a woman would have her 
                                                               choice; this was a privilege that could not be denied her.
                                                               (Encyclopedia of Joseph Smith's Teachings, p. 411-412)


 

         And so it is clear that a shuffling will take place before all marriage contracts are permanently settled. But even considering all this, however, it does not follow that all celestial marriages will be polygamous. Nor does there seem to be a requirement that celestial marriages must be polygamous.
         Support for the suggestion that plural marriage will be a celestial requirement is often taken from a sermon of Brigham Young, in which he stated, “The only men who become Gods, even the Sons of God, are those who enter into polygamy” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 11: 269). However, the context in which this statement was given is crucial. President Young was speaking against those who “wish that the doctrine of polygamy was not taught and practiced by us”, which was the present policy of the Church. It was therefore a reaction against those who would seek to change the present policies of the Church by some other avenue other than revelation from God to his prophets. If the sermon is analyzed closely, it is clear that President Young was not saying that all must be polygamists, for he said, “It is the word of the Lord, and I wish to say to you, and all the world, that if you desire with all your hearts to obtain the blessings which Abraham obtained, you will be polygamists at least in your faith” (ibid.). The “at least in your faith” portion is key, since it indicates that the Saints were not necessarily required to be practicing polygamists, but they were required to be believing and supportive of its true principles. The same is true today. Therefore, the “moral of the story” is not that polygamy is essential, but that we can only be saved by following the doctrine and policy that the Church dispenses in our own generation. When Brigham Young said, “The only men who become Gods, even the Sons of God, are those who enter into polygamy” (ibid.), he was meaning that those Saints of his generation must either enter into or be supportive of the practice of plural marriage, or they would be damned.
         Despite what may have been said or can be construed on the matter, plural marriage is not required in the celestial kingdom, according to the scriptures and reason. What if, for instance, the very last couple in the celestial kingdom was short an additional wife? Would they be forced to leave their celestial inheritance simply because of a statistical anomaly? As B.H. Roberts said, “The doctrine of the rightfulness of plural marriage is in every sense but an incident in the ‘Mormon system’ rather than a basic principle. Salvation in the Mormon religion is not made to depend upon a plurality of wives” (B. H. Roberts, Defense of the Faith and the Saints, 1:101). In answering the question of whether plural marriage is essential for exaltation, Charles W. Penrose of the First Presidency wrote, 
“Celestial marriage is essential to a fullness of glory in the world to come, as explained in the revelation concerning it [D&C 132]; but it is not stated that plural marriage is thus essential” (Charles W. Penrose, Improvement Era, Sep. 1912, 1042, emphasis added). Bruce R. McConkie concurred with these assessments, giving us evidence from the scriptures:

 

                                                              Plural marriage is not essential to salvation or exaltation. Nephi
                                                              and his people were denied the power to have more than one wife
                                                              and yet they could gain every blessing in eternity that the Lord
                                                              ever offered to any people. In our day, the Lord summarized by
                                                              revelation the whole doctrine of exaltation and predicated it upon
                                                              the marriage of one man to one woman. (D. & C. 132:1-28.)
                                                              Thereafter he added the principles relative to plurality of wives
                                                              with the express stipulation that any such marriages would be valid
                                                              only if authorized by the President of the Church. (D. & C. 132:7,
                                                              29-66.)
                                                              (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2d ed., p. 578-579).

 

Reasons for Plural Marriage

 

         What could be the possible reasons for plural marriage? There are many which seem apparent. First, recall that the Book of Mormon declares, “For if I will, saith the Lord, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people” (Jacob 2:30, emphasis added). Therefore, one of the major reasons for plural marriage is to “raise up seed” unto God. In other words, just think: If a man the caliber of Brigham Young, for instance, was your dad, what would the chances be of you also being exceptionally righteous? Very good, compared to being born into the home of an average person, or even an average member of the Church. That is no doubt a major reason why the leading Brethren of the Church were privileged to take as many wives as they did. It was to build up a people of faith and integrity. It was in this spirit that Brigham Young declared, “It would please me to see good men and women have families; I would like to have righteous men take more wives and raise up holy children” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 3:265).
         Secondly, the Saints viewed plural marriage as a continuation of the doctrine and promises of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. By entering into the practice, they were literally partaking in the same promises and covenants as the ancient patriarchs (Hyrum L. Andrus, Doctrines of the Kingdom, p. 482). Indeed, the dispensation ushered in through the instrumentality of Joseph Smith was “a dispensation of the fulness of times” which “is now beginning to usher in, that a whole and complete and perfect union, and welding together of dispensations, and keys, and powers, and glories [which have been] revealed from the days of Adam even to the present time” (D&C 128:18). Those things which had been put in place in prior dispensations must again be manifested in our present dispensation.
         Thirdly, according to Hyrum L. Andrus, plural marriage was seen as a means of funneling noble spirits from the pre-existence into the very most righteous of Latter-day Saint homes. Brigham Young declared, “There is a reason why the doctrine of plurality of wives was revealed, that the noble spirits which are waiting for tabernacles might be brought forth” (Brigham Young as quoted in Hyrum L. Andrus, Doctrines of the Kingdom, p. 482-483). Brigham Young also said of plural marriage, “This revelation, which God gave to Joseph, was for the express purpose of providing a channel for the organization of tabernacles, for those spirits to occupy who have been reserved to come forth in the kingdom of God, and that they might not be obliged to take tabernacles out of the kingdom of God” (Journal of Discourses, 3: 265). Heber C. Kimball likewise stated, “I tell you that some of the most noble spirits are waiting with the Father to this day to come forth through the right channels and the right kind of men and women” (Heber C. Kimball as quoted in Hyrum L. Andrus, Doctrines of the Kingdom, p. 482-483).
         Fourthly, according to Andrus again, what will likely be surprising to many is that plural marriage was also seen as a mechanism to improve society through competition. Joseph Smith said to Brigham Young, “You will have to take more than one wife, and this order has to spread and increase until the inhabitants of the earth repent of their evils and men will do what is right towards the females” (ibid., p. 484). In other words, it gave the women better marriage prospects. Just because a good and worthy man was married, it didn’t mean that he was no longer available for marriage. And so, rather than marry a less desirable person, the women would have the ability to choose from a much broader and improved range of prospects. This forces the less desirable or less worthy men to step up and improve themselves in order to compete (ibid., p. 485).
         Fifthly, plural marriage was seen as a remedy for all manner of vice in society, by preoccupying its participants with its associated duties while at the same time giving a pure and legitimate outlet for hyper sexuality so common in men. Presendia Huntington, a plural wife of Joseph Smith, testified to her son whom she had with her later husband, Heber C. Kimball, “The principle of plural marriage is true, and, if properly lived, would redeem woman from slavery and put her on a higher plane than she has ever occupied before. There would be no prostitution in the world, and every normal woman would have a husband and children” (John Henry Evans, Joseph Smith, an American Prophet, p. 265). Eliza R. Snow, another plural wife of Joseph Smith, said, “Here in Utah, through his servants and handmaidens [God] is establishing a nucleus of domestic and social purity, confidence and happiness, which will, so far as its influence extends, eradicate and prevent, in future, all those blighting evils…. God loves purity, and he has introduced the principle of plurality of wives to restore and preserve the chastity of woman…. It is truly woman's cause - a cause which deeply involves, not only her present but her eternal interests” (BYU Studies, vol. 16 (1975-1976), p. 260, spelling altered). Apostle George Teasdale said that the emphatic teaching throughout time within the cultures of Western society that men should only ever have one wife “has resulted in the prostitution of many of the fair daughters of Eve as mistresses” (Journal of Discourses, 25:22), when in fact in the Lord’s system of plural marriage, prostitution and adultery effectively become obsolete, and the man must step up and accept the responsibility and care for the unions with his wives, and the children which result. George Q. Cannon also agreed that plural marriage throughout time “prevented the dreadful crime of prostitution by allowing men to have more wives than one” (Journal of Discourses, 13:203 - 204).
         Sixthly, plural marriage had the effect of solving a practical numbers problem. As William E. Berrett explained, “In the early period of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints an unusual condition prevailed. More women than men joined the Church. This was true of the period at Nauvoo and for a number of years after the arrival of the Saints in Utah. It remained true so long as converts made up the mass of Church membership. The Saints were as isolated a people as if they had been on an island of the sea. Marriage outside the Church was discouraged. There were not enough men to go around. Many women must live and die singly, deprived of the opportunity for development which marriage and a home brings. The alternative was plural marriage” (William E. Berrett, The Restored Church, 7th ed., p. 250). This, however, was not the sole, or even the main reason why plural marriage was initiated in the Church, and it should not be used as the pat excuse for why plural marriage existed in the Church. But it certainly was another benefit to have this need fulfilled through the principle of plural marriage.
         Seventhly, another reason for plural marriage which once again works to the advantage of the women, involves the question of numbers and the requirement that all must be married to receive exaltation (D&C 131:4). It is a strong possibility that when all is said and done, there will be more women worthy of exaltation than there are men. This assertion is based purely on the general character of men versus women. What shall the disproportionate amount of women do with no marriage partner? Salvation in the celestial kingdom requires “the new and everlasting covenant of marriage” (D&C 131:4). In order for the larger proportion of women to obtain their eternal crown, and not be damned by a statistical anomaly not of their doing, they must be sealed to righteous men who already have a wife or wives. As a numbers problem, this would be the only solution within the constraint of marriage being essential for exaltation. In short, we may suppose that more women will be saved than men and will need marriage.
         Eighthly, in the eternal worlds, the goal is “a continuation of the seeds forever and ever” (D&C 132:19). With a man being sealed to multiple wives, the rate of propagation increases greatly, allowing their kingdom to expand ever more rapidly in the eternal worlds.
         Ninethly, in the days of Joseph Smith especially, there was a sense of urgency to secure as great a family as possible in this life all for the benefit to come in the eternal worlds (Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, p.11). Also, there was a sense of dynastic purposes to many marriages, particularly those entered into with Joseph Smith. That is, faithful friends of very high Church leaders desired to be connected to the family of the Church leaders eternally by the unbreakable bond of the sealing power (ibid.). This idea of securing a large and righteous family for the eternities still carries through today. The notion is still very relevant, and applies particularly with the prophetic counsel we have received time and again to not limit the number of children in our families for “personal or selfish reasons” (Ezra Taft Benson, To the Mothers in Zion). In the eternal worlds, we can increase the number of our spirit children – the “continuation of the seeds” (D&C 132:19), but we cannot then increase the number of our earthly children to whom we are sealed to in this life, who will hopefully be with us in eternity.
         Tenthly, plural marriage is a strong test of obedience to religious principle. If a person can abide such a test, they develop a rare self-mastery not found in the common person. This leads a person towards perfection. There are many hardships associated with the plural marriage lifestyle. The women must accept the fact that they must share their husband with other women. It has hardships also for the men, particularly in situations like that of Joseph Smith where the first wife is hostile to the principle and the other wives, causing many difficulties. This test of obedience was also particularly severe for those whom Joseph asked to give up their wives to him. These things and their connection to the principles of sacrifice and obedience will be discussed further on in this article.

 

How Widespread Was Plural Marriage Among Latter-day Saints?

 

          The question of how much plural marriage occurred within the Church is also probably a curious one for the reader. The Encyclopedia of Mormonism reports:

                                                              The exact percentage of Latter-day Saints who participated in the
                                                              practice is not known, but studies suggest a maximum of from 20
                                                              to 25 of LDS adults were members of polygamous households. At
                                                              its height, plural marriage probably involved only a third of the
                                                              women reaching marriageable age - though among Church
                                                              leadership plural marriage was the norm for a time.
                                                              (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, p.1095.)

 

         It is interesting to note that the first seven Presidents of the Church, Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, Lorenzo Snow, Joseph F. Smith, and Heber J. Grant were all polygamists. Heber J. Grant, the last of the polygamist Presidents of the Church, of course married his plural wives as a young apostle prior to the Manifesto in 1890 (Presidents of the Church Student Manual, p. 118). President Grant had a total of three wives: Lucy Stringham, Augusta Winters, and Emily Wells. President Grant was president of the Church from just after the end of World War I in 1918 clear up until his death on May 14, 1945, showing that polygamy is not far removed from us as a Church, and its legacy is still almost within reach of us. Of course, by the time President Grant became President of the Church, he only had one surviving wife, Augusta, and so he was actually living monogamously (Bryant S. Hinckley, Heber J. Grant: Highlights in the Life of a Great Leader, p. 77-93).

 

Living Arrangements of Plural Marriages

 

         What was it like to live in a plural marriage relationship? The Encyclopedia of Mormonism describes the general experience:

 

                                                              Generally plural marriage involved only two wives and seldom
                                                              more than three; larger families like those of Brigham Young or
                                                              Heber C. Kimball were exceptions. Sometimes the wives simply
                                                              shared homes, each with her own bedroom, or lived in a "duplex"
                                                              arrangement, each with a mirror-image half of the house. In other 
                                                              cases, husbands established separate homes for their wives,
                                                              sometimes in separate towns. Although circumstances and the
                                                              mechanics of family life varied, in general the living style was
                                                              simply an adaptation of the nineteenth century American family.
                                                              Polygamous marriages were similar to national norms in fertility
                                                              and divorce rates as well. Wives of one husband often developed
                                                              strong bonds of sisterly love; however, strong antipathies could 
                                                              also arise between wives.
                                                              …Instead of public admonitions urging women to enter plural 
                                                              marriage, one finds many urging worthy men to “do their duty”
                                                              and undertake to care for a plural wife and additional children.
                                                              Though some were reluctant to accept such responsibility, many 
                                                              responded and sought another wife. It was not unheard of for a
                                                              wife to take the lead and insist that her husband take another wife;
                                                              yet, in other cases, a first marriage dissolved over the husband's
                                                              insistence on marrying again.
                                                              As with families generally, some plural families worked better than
                                                              others. Anecdotal evidence and the healthy children that emerged
                                                              from many plural households witness that some worked very well. 
                                                              But some plural wives disliked the arrangement. The most 
                                                              common complaint of second and third wives resulted from a 
                                                              husband displaying too little sensitivity to the needs of plural
                                                              families or not treating them equally. Not infrequently, wives 
                                                              complained that husbands spent too little time with them. But
                                                              where husbands provided conscientiously even time and wives
                                                              developed deep love and respect for each other, children grew up 
                                                              as members of large, well-adjusted extended families.
                                                              (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, p. 1094)

 

         As might be imagined, plural marriage was not a uniform experience for every family. Some plural marriages worked well, and others not so well. Some plural marriages developed a very strong bond between the sister-wives, as was the case with Vilate Kimball, first wife of Heber C. Kimball, and her sister-wives. Other plural marriages, as would be expected, experienced no small amount of trial and jealousy and difficulty between sister-wives. Obviously, it took hard work on every person’s part who was involved, in order to make the plural marriage arrangement successful.
          In the very large polygamous families, like that of Heber C. Kimball’s or Brigham Young’s, it was very difficult to spend time with such a large number of wives, especially considering their busy ecclesiastical duties. Therefore, they would make social calls on their wives; much like a person would occasionally do to visit a friend (Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith). In fact, often friendship was virtually the extent of some of these marriages (ibid., p. 198), although there was usually also a sexual dimension involved as well. Unfortunately, because of the size of such large polygamous families, it was often impractical or impossible for the lone husband to provide for the support of all his wives and children, and so dependence in such matters was looked to among other relatives or friends, rather than the husband himself. As has been noted, plural marriages of this size were not typical.
         What sort of effect did plural marriage relationships have on the wives and children of such unions? In modern polygamist sects, of course, there are significant social and probably emotional problems as a result of abuse of the principle. But when done properly, plural marriage families are a nurturing environment. The Encyclopedia of Mormonism continues,

 

                                                              Contrary to the caricatures of a hostile world press, plural marriage
                                                              did not result in offspring of diminished capacity. Normal men and
                                                              women came from plural households, and their descendants are
                                                              prominent throughout the Intermountain West. Some observers
                                                              feel that the added responsibility that fell early upon some children
                                                              in such households contributed to their exceptional record of
                                                              achievement. Plural marriage also aided many wives. The
                                                              flexibility of plural households contributed to the large number of
                                                              accomplished LDS women who were pioneers in medicine,
                                                              politics and other public careers. In fact, plural marriage made it
                                                              possible for wives to have professional careers that would not
                                                              otherwise have been available to them.
                                                              (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, p. 1095)

 

What is the Law of Sarah?

 

          In the Doctrine & Covenants with reference to plural marriage mention is made of “the law of Sarah” (D&C 132:65). In the Old Testament, the account of Abraham receiving his first plural wife is recounted in this way: “And Sarai Abram’s wife took Hagar her maid the Egyptian, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife” (Gen. 16:3). It is apparent that Sarah gave her consent to the union between Abraham and Hagar, and even formally oversaw the pairing and made the decision that Hagar should be the one to become Abraham’s second wife. The Doctrine & Covenants gives more clues relating to this practice. It says:

 

                                                              And again, verily, verily, I say unto you, if any man have a wife,
                                                              who holds the keys of this power, and he teaches unto her the law
                                                              of my priesthood, as pertaining to these things, then shall she
                                                              believe and administer unto him, or she shall be [spiritually]
                                                              destroyed, saith the Lord your God; for I will destroy her; for I will
                                                              magnify my name upon all those who receive and abide in my law.
                                                              Therefore, it shall be lawful in me, if she receive not this law, for 
                                                              him to receive all things whatsoever I, the Lord his God, will give
                                                              unto him, because she did not believe and administer unto him 
                                                              according to my word; and she then becomes the transgressor; and 
                                                              he is exempt from the law of Sarah, who administered unto
                                                              Abraham according to the law when I commanded Abraham to
                                                              take Hagar to wife.
                                                              (D&C 132:64-65).

 

         In other words, the Law of Sarah is the first wife’s privilege to give her consent to any subsequent marriages of her husband. The wife has the privilege to “administer” unto her husband (D&C 132:64), by being empowered to give input and consent regarding her wishes for her husband’s subsequent marriages. Acceptance of the law of plural marriage, according to the ancient Law of Sarah, privileges the wife to give input into the future unions of her husband. Hoyt W. Brewster wrote the following about the Law of Sarah:

 

                                                              The “law of Sarah” seems to be the approval given by the first
                                                              wife for the husband to take additional wives, in order to “raise
                                                              up seed” unto the Lord (D&C 132:61, 64-65). Even though God
                                                              commanded Abraham to take Hagar to wife, Sarah, as the first
                                                              wife, gave her approval (D&C 132:34). It appears that if the first
                                                              wife will not give her approval, however, after having been
                                                              properly taught the priesthood propriety of such action, she is 
                                                              under condemnation and the husband is exempt from this “law of
                                                              permission.”
                                                              (Hoyt W. Brewster, Jr., Doctrine and Covenants Encyclopedia,
                                                              p. 317)

 

         Hyrum L. Andrus wrote, “The same obligation rested upon the first wife of every man who was commanded of God to practice plural marriage. She was expected to fulfill ‘the law of Sarah’” (Hyrum L. Andrus, Doctrines of the Kingdom, p.464). Andrus goes on to explain,

 

                                                              The first wife's right to give or withhold consent was the right to 
                                                              be considered and consulted by her husband in taking a second
                                                              wife. It was also the right to express her judgment about whether 
                                                              her husband had been faithful to his covenant with her, was a 
                                                              true father according to the standard required by the gospel, and
                                                              conformed to the law of God in the way he was taking another
                                                              wife. If he did not adequately meet these requirements, his first 
                                                              wife's refusal to give her consent could prevent him from taking
                                                              another wife.
                                                              But a wife could not use this right to prevent her husband from
                                                              taking a second wife if he was fulfilling his obligations to her 
                                                              and his family, and if he proceeded to take another companion 
                                                              according to the law of God. Her failure to give consent under 
                                                              these circumstances released him from the obligation to act with
                                                              her approbation. Here was a delicate, but important,
                                                              reconciliation of authority and consent in the affairs of the home.
                                                              (Hyrum L. Andrus, Doctrines of the Kingdom, p.465)

 

         It is interesting to note that Emma Smith, the first wife of the Prophet Joseph Smith, through her sporadic opposition to the principle of plural marriage, forfeited her right to the Law of Sarah. As the revelation says, “if she receive not this law, for him to receive all things whatsoever I, the Lord his God, will give unto him, because she did not believe and administer unto him according to my word; and she then becomes the transgressor; and he is exempt from the law of Sarah” (D&C 132:65). This is the condition that justified the Prophet Joseph in taking additional wives without the consent or often even the knowledge of Emma. It became “lawful in [God],” since Emma “receive[d] not this law,” and was opposed to the principle, “for [Joseph] to receive all things whatsoever I, the Lord his God, will give unto him” (D&C 132:65). History has demonstrated that because of her rebellious spirit Emma had been spiritually “destroyed” (D&C 132:64) after the death of Joseph and through to the end of her life, just as this revelation promises. As far as Joseph entering into plural marriages without Emma's knowledge or consent, Joseph no doubt did consult matters with Emma early on before his first plural marriage, but she must have (true to character) outright rejected the doctrine of plural marriage and forbidden Joseph to have any involvement in it. This would have left the Prophet with little choice - either follow the command of God or please his jealous wife and forfeit his salvation, and (as we shall see soon) lose his mortal life at the hands of a destroying angel. Of course the Prophet chose the right way - to keep the commandment of God - and since Emma often forfeited her right to the Law of Sarah, he was perfectly justified in marrying as he did.
         Orson Pratt, also a polygamist Church leader, explained the Law of Sarah in practical application. He said:

 

                                                              When a man who has a wife, teaches her the law of God, as 
                                                              revealed to the ancient patriarchs, and as manifested by new 
                                                              revelation, and she refuses to give her consent for him to marry
                                                              another according to that law, then it becomes necessary for her to 
                                                              state before the President the reasons why she withholds her
                                                              consent: if her reasons are sufficient and justifiable, and the 
                                                              husband is found in the fault or in transgression, then he is not
                                                              permitted to take any step in regard to obtaining another. But if the
                                                              wife can show no good reason why she refuses to comply with the 
                                                              law which was given unto Sarah of old, then it is lawful for her
                                                              husband, if permitted by revelation through the Prophet, to be
                                                              married to others without her consent, and he will be justified, and
                                                              she will be condemned, because she did not give them unto him, as
                                                              Sarah gave Hagar unto Abraham, and as Rachel and Leah gave
                                                              Billhah and Zilpah to their husband, Jacob.
                                                              (Orson Pratt, The Seer, I (March, 1853), p. 41, as quoted in Hyrum
                                                              L. Andrus, Doctrines of the Kingdom, p.465)

 

Sacrifice & Obedience

 

         It is apparent that by its nature plural marriage is prone to difficulties, misunderstanding, hurt feelings, and sometimes loneliness. Certainly the men who have a responsibility to the members of their large polygamous family feel the burden and stress of their obligations towards them. It is by no means an easy lifestyle for any of the parties involved - the women or the men. A life spent living the law of plural marriage is in many ways a life of great sacrifice. Sacrifice, however, is fundamental to true religion. A willingness to sacrifice is essential to salvation and making our callings and elections sure. In the Lectures on Faith, we are told:

 

                                                              [A] religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never
                                                              has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and
                                                              salvation; for, from the first existence of man, the faith necessary
                                                              unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained
                                                              without the sacrifice of all earthly things. It was through this
                                                              sacrifice, and this only, that God has ordained that men should 
                                                              enjoy eternal life; and it is through the medium of the sacrifice of
                                                              all earthly things that men do actually know that they are doing the
                                                              things that are well pleasing in the sight of God. When a man has
                                                              offered in sacrifice all that he has for the truth’s sake, not even 
                                                              withholding his life, and believing before God that he has been
                                                              called to make this sacrifice because he seeks to do his will, he
                                                              does know, most assuredly, that God does and will accept his
                                                              sacrifice and offering, and that he has not, nor will not seek his 
                                                              face in vain. Under these circumstances, then, he can obtain the
                                                              faith necessary for him to lay hold on eternal life.
                                                              (Lectures on Faith, 6:7)


 

         Sacrifice and obedience are twin attributes that if observed will see that a person receives eternal life. Many found the test of obedience and the extent of the sacrifice associated with plural marriage, particularly when it was first introduced to them, to be almost unbearable. John Taylor, a staunch defender of the principle of plural marriage to the end of his life, said, “When this system was first introduced among this people, it was one of the greatest crosses that ever was taken up by any set of men since the world stood.” (John Taylor, Journal of Discourses, 11: 221). Brigham Young, famous for his later whole-hearted acceptance of polygamy, related his feelings about first being asked to participate in plural marriage: “I was not desirous of shrinking from any duty, nor of failing in the least to do as I was commanded, but it was the first time in my life that I had desired the grave, and I could hardly get over it for a long time. And when I saw a funeral, I felt to envy the corpse its situation, and to regret that I was not in the coffin” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 3: 266).
         At times, the Prophet Joseph asked brethren within his inner circle to give up their wives to him. This was a manifestation of one of the greatest possible sacrifices a man could endure – to give his beloved wife up to be with another. One such story is related by Heber C. Kimball’s son-in-law, James Lawson:

 

                                                              In 1855, Heber C. Kimball sent for me (I had just been married
                                                              thirteen days) and said “Brother James, I want you to give your 
                                                              wife Betsy a divorce.” I said, “Brother Kimball, what is the matter?
                                                              There is nothing wrong with us, and we think everything of each
                                                              other.” He said, “Nothing is the matter, but here is the divorce and
                                                              I want you to sign it.” I signed it and he told me to send her home
                                                              to her mother which I did. At the same time I asked her if she had
                                                              been making any complaints to Brother Kimball about me. She
                                                              said, “Never, to anybody.” I did not sleep a wink that night, and no
                                                              one knows what I suffered in my feelings. I prayed frequently to 
                                                              the Lord and inquired of Him what all this meant. Towards 
                                                              morning I received an answer to my prayers. The Spirit came unto
                                                              me, “Be comforted, my servant James, all will come out right.”
                                                              Soon after this Brother Kimball went to the Legislature, which was
                                                              held at Fillmore, and was absent from home about two months.
                                                              When he returned he gave me a mission to Carson Valley and told
                                                              me to get Betsy and bring her to the Endowment House with me. I
                                                              did so and he sealed us for time and all eternity. After this took
                                                              place I said, “Brother Kimball what did you do that for?” He said, 
                                                              “Brother James, I did it to try you as I was tried. I will tell you.
                                                              After I had returned from my second mission to England in 1841, 
                                                              the Prophet Joseph came to me one evening and said, ‘Brother
                                                              Heber, I want you to give Vilate to me to be my wife,’ saying that
                                                              the Lord desired this at my hands.” Heber said that in all his life 
                                                              before he had never had anything take hold of him like that. He
                                                              was dumbfounded. He went home, and did not eat a mouthful of 
                                                              anything, nor even touch a drop of water to his lips, nor sleep, for
                                                              three days and nights. He was almost continually offering up his
                                                              prayers to God and asking Him for comfort. On the evening of the
                                                              third day he said, “Vilate, let’s go down to the Prophet’s,” and they
                                                              went down and met him in a private room. Heber said, “Brother 
                                                              Joseph, here is Vilate.” The Prophet wept like a child, said,
                                                              “Heber,” and after he had cleared the tears away, he took us and
                                                              sealed us for time and all eternity, and said, “Brother Heber, take 
                                                              her, and the Lord will give you a hundredfold.”
                                                              (“Heber C. Kimball and Family, the Nauvoo Years” by Stanley B.
                                                              Kimball, BYU Studies, vol. 15 (1974-1975), Number 4 - Summer
                                                              1975, 463. Some punctuation altered.)

 

         This Abrahamic sacrifice shows the depth of devotion to the cause of God. Heber C. Kimball was spared by the Lord from actually having to make this sacrifice. However, Orson Hyde, a fellow apostle, was given the same request by Joseph Smith and was actually required to follow through and give up his wife to become a plural wife of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Rather than being an Abrahamic sacrifice, for Orson Hyde, this would be a life-long test. It is as Jesus said, “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). This does not mean that Jesus’ disciples should hate their families, but that their greatest devotion should be to the Lord. Orson Hyde, of course, subsequently married other wives. But in both the instances of Kimball and Hyde, there is shown the depth of their unwavering devotion to the Lord and their willingness to lay everything on the altar and say in effect, “Thy will be done.”
         Jedediah M. Grant, second counselor to Brigham Young in the First Presidency and father of Heber J. Grant, made the following comments about the deep religious meaning to Joseph Smith’s marriages, particularly his polyandrous ones, which is sacrifice and obedience:

 

                                                              When the family organization was revealed from heaven—the 
                                                              patriarchal order of God, and Joseph began, on the right and on the
                                                              left, to add to his family, what a quaking there was in Israel. Says 
                                                              one brother to another, “Joseph says all covenants are done away,
                                                              and none are binding but the new covenants; now suppose Joseph
                                                              should come and say he wanted your wife, what would you say to
                                                              that?” “I would tell him to go to hell.” This was the spirit of many
                                                              in the early days of this Church. What would a man of God say,
                                                              who felt aright, when Joseph asked him for his money? He would
                                                              say, “Yes, and I wish I had more to help to build up the kingdom
                                                              of God.” Or if he came and said, “I want your wife?” “O yes,” he
                                                              would say, “here she is, there are plenty more.”…I would ask you
                                                              if Jehovah has not in all ages tried His people by the power of
                                                              Lucifer and his associates; and on the other hand, has He not tried 
                                                              them and proved them by His Prophets? Did the Lord actually
                                                              want Abraham to kill Isaac? Did the Prophet Joseph want every
                                                              man’s wife he asked for? He did not, but in that thing was the
                                                              grand thread of the Priesthood developed. The grand object in view 
                                                              was to try the people of God, to see what was in them. If such a
                                                              man of God should come to me and say, “I want your gold and
                                                              silver, or your wives,” I should say, “Here they are, I wish I had
                                                              more to give you, take all I have got.” A man who has got the
                                                              Spirit of God, and the light of eternity in him, has no trouble about
                                                              such matters.
                                                              (Jedediah M. Grant, Journal of Discourses, 2:13-14)

 

         With all of this it should be kept in mind that Joseph Smith sacrificed as much and more than all others had regarding plural marriage. He gave his very life in Carthage jail on June 27, 1844, partially because of his obedience to this commandment of God.
         Plural marriage therefore is a great test of obedience. In the Doctrine & Covenants, it says,

 

                                                              Abraham received concubines, and they bore him children; and it 
                                                              was accounted unto him for righteousness, because they were
                                                              given unto him, and he abode in my law; as Isaac also and Jacob
                                                              did none other things than that which they were commanded; and
                                                              because they did none other things than that which they were 
                                                              commanded
, they have entered into their exaltation, according to
                                                              the promises, and sit upon thrones, and are not angels but are gods.
                                                              (D&C 132:37, emphasis added)

 

         As this scripture indicates, it is the obedience that is the crucial thing in the law of plural marriage, not so much the number of wives or the size of the polygamist family. The obedience is what God is most interested in, because that is what will perfect the human family.

 

Joseph Smith’s Plural Marriages

 

         When people think of Mormon polygamy, they generally think of Brigham Young, famous for many wives. His predecessor Joseph Smith, however, the one who initiated plural marriage in this dispensation, was every bit as involved in plural marriage. The fact is that the Prophet Joseph Smith was married and sealed to many women. The reason that Joseph Smith is not so well known for his plural marriages as succeeding Church leaders are is because Joseph married his wives in great secrecy to avoid scandal. It should be noted that Joseph’s life would be in great danger were his obedience to the principle of plural marriage made public while he was in Kirtland, Ohio or Nauvoo, Illinois. In fact, the Church only ever went public about their practice of plural marriage on August 29, 1852, when they were already in the Great Salt Lake Basin, far out of the reach of their enemies. Plural marriage had to be kept secret in the Kirtland/Nauvoo days, as a practical safety issue. Aside from that, Elizabeth Ann Whitney, wife of Newel K. Whitney, wrote that “He [Joseph Smith] had been strictly charged by the angel…that the most profound secrecy must be maintained [regarding plural marriage]” (Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, p. 347).
         But just as David anciently received wives as a reward for obedience (2 Sam. 8-12), so did Joseph Smith (D&C 132:52-55, 60). Joseph would often initiate marriage proposals using an intermediary (usually a male relative of the prospective wife). He would preface his proposal of marriage with an introduction to the doctrine of plural marriage, which was usually completely new to the intermediary and the prospective wife. There were recorded instances where the Prophet specifically declared that the prospective wife was meant to be his from the preexistence. This was the pattern the Prophet followed in introducing plural marriage and securing to himself additional wives.
         After Joseph’s death, many of his plural wives married Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball, two of the very most loyal apostles. Joseph Smith had apparently asked them to do this in the case of his death (Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, p. 83). Brigham Young married “between seven and nine of them,” while Heber C. Kimball married “approximately eleven,” and George A. Smith and Amasa M. Lyman each married one (ibid.). Others were married by other prominent members of the Church. This was done in the spirit of the Old Testament “Levirate marriage” law, which is, “If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without unto a stranger: her husband's brother shall go in unto her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of an husband's brother unto her” (Deut. 25:5). The idea is for the “brother” to raise up seed unto the deceased (Deut. 25:6). Therefore, any children born to a wife of Joseph Smith (after their marriage sealing) by another would be the children of Joseph Smith in the eternities. The custom for these marriages was to re-seal the wife to Joseph Smith, then deceased, while the proxy husband became the wife’s earthly marriage companion.

 

Timeline of Plural Marriage

 

         How soon did Joseph Smith receive revelation regarding plural marriage? Historical evidence indicates that Joseph was aware that the law of plural marriage was a true principle as early as 1831 (Hyrum L. Andrus, Doctrines of the Kingdom, p. 451). Joseph Smith shared this information with trusted friends. Orson Pratt stated, “In the fore part of the year 1832, Joseph told individuals, then in the Church, that he had inquired of the Lord concerning the principle of plurality of wives, and he received for answer that the principle of taking more wives than one is a true principle, but the time had not yet come for it to be practiced” (Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses, 13:193). It is apparent that not much longer after Joseph received such a revelation, he was commanded to enter into the practice of plural marriage. However, the Prophet was at first very hesitant to initiate such a practice, no doubt feeling confused because of his Victorian value-based upbringing. Hyrum L. Andrus notes that many have testified that God sent to Joseph an angel with sword in hand, to threaten him in order for him to enter into the practice.

 

                                                              When the Prophet still hesitated, the heavenly messenger finally
                                                              appeared with a drawn sword and threatened his destruction if 
                                                              he did not institute the practice. Lightner, op. cit. Several testimonies
                                                              support the fact that Joseph Smith said he received these 
                                                              ministrations. Hyrum Smith told Benjamin F. Johnson: “I know
                                                              that Joseph was commanded to take more wives, and he waited
                                                              until an angel with drawn sword stood before him and declared
                                                              that if he longer delayed fulfilling that command that he would 
                                                              slay him.”—Johnson to Gibbs, p. 13. Elder Johnson also signed an 
                                                              affidavit stating that Joseph Smith taught his (Johnson's) mother in
                                                              his hearing “the doctrine of celestial marriage, declaring that an
                                                              angel appeared unto him with a drawn sword, threatening to slay
                                                              him if he did not proceed to fulfill the law that had been given to
                                                              him.”—Jenson, op. cit., p. 222. Helen Mar Whitney stated:
                                                              “Joseph's own testimony was, that an angel was sent to command
                                                              him to teach and to enter into this order. This angel, he states, 
                                                              stood over him with a drawn sword prepared to inflict the penalty
                                                              of death if he should be disobedient.”—Whitney, Plural Marriage
                                                              As Taught By The Prophet Joseph
, p. 13. See also, Whitney, Why
                                                              We Practice Plural Marriage
, p. 63.
                                                              (Hyrum L. Andrus, Doctrines of the Kingdom, p. 489)

 

         Joseph Smith began the practice of plural marriage in the Kirtland days, but he married the vast majority of his wives in Nauvoo during 1842 and 1843. Joseph’s first plural marriage could have been as early as 1833, with another plural wife married around 1838 (Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, p. 4). Joseph married three other wives in 1841, and then in the first eight months of 1842, Joseph married another eleven wives. There was then a five month time span of no additional marriages (this was during the time when John C. Bennett published his slandering exposé of Mormon polygamy), until the first half of 1843 when Joseph married fourteen more wives. A few more were married later that year (ibid., p. 2-3).

 

The Number of Joseph Smith’s Wives


         How many wives did Joseph Smith have? The answer to that is surprisingly difficult to answer, since it must be pieced together by vague historical evidences. In what is almost universally accepted as the best work on the subject, Todd Compton concludes that we can be sure of 33 plural marriages during the lifetime of Joseph Smith (Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, p. 10-11). He very well may have been married to others. After his death, many women were later sealed to Joseph by proxy, increasing the number even more (interestingly, in the nineteenth century, the policy of the Church was such that the man standing as proxy also became the woman’s earthly husband for “time”) (ibid., p. 9).
        Why did the Prophet Joseph Smith marry so many wives? Consider the motivating factors: 1) The fact that Joseph had been commanded at specific times to participate in plural marriage at the threat of his life (recall the angel with the drawn sword), 2) Non-compliance with the command to initiate the practice of plural marriage would surely have brought damnation to the Prophet, giving him little choice in the matter, 3) Joseph’s vast and unparalleled theological understanding of the afterlife and family relations in the celestial kingdom, 4) Joseph’s eventual acceptance and enthusiasm for the principle of plural marriage –  all of these factors certainly contributed to the sheer number of his plural marriages as well as his dogged persistence when pursuing the women he proposed marriage to. These considerations also account for the fact that the Prophet Joseph Smith was very persistent when it came to his marriage proposals, and often increased in determination upon an initial rejection. Consider the famous “Essay On Happiness” found in works such as History of the Church (HC 5:134-135), in which the following statement of the Prophet is found: “Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God.” This document was actually a letter written to Nancy Rigdon, daughter of Sidney Rigdon, in an effort to persuade her to accept his [the Prophet Joseph’s] marriage proposal, which she had refused.

 

The Ages of Joseph Smith’s Wives

 

         What may be shocking to today’s generation, but was not necessarily out of the ordinary in the nineteenth century, was that some of Joseph Smith’s wives were quite young, two being probably about age fourteen, one probably about age sixteen, and three others age seventeen at the time of their marriage to Joseph Smith. We must be careful to not judge a nineteenth century man by twenty-first century customs. Charges by critics that Joseph Smith was some kind of pervert for taking younger wives are completely ludicrous, especially considering the social climate of the day. It was also not altogether uncommon in the nineteenth century to have wide age discrepancies between husband and wife, with the husband being many years older than the wife. Such is the case with several of Joseph Smith’s plural marriages.
         As for the age distribution of Joseph Smith’s wives, “In the group of Smith’s well-documented wives, eleven (33 percent) were 14 to 20 years old when they married him. Nine wives (27 percent) were twenty-one to thirty years old. Eight wives (24 percent) were in Smith’s own peer group, ages thirty-one to forty” (Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, p.11). As well, two wives (6 percent) were between the ages of forty-one to fifty, and three wives (9 percent) were in the aged fifty-one to sixty category (ibid.). As Compton says, this clearly “contradicts the Mormon folk-wisdom that sees the beginnings of polygamy as an attempt to care for older, unattached women” (ibid.), since the majority of Joseph Smith’s wives were in the prime of their life. We should take care not to try to use such silly explanations for plural marriage, which only serve to settle our minds and appease our Victorian-influenced senses, and are not representative of the facts.

 

The Marital Status of Joseph Smith’s Wives

 

         What is also a very interesting fact is that a significant proportion of Joseph Smith’s wives were already married to other men at the time that he sealed himself to them. Eighteen of Joseph Smith’s wives were single when he married them (55%), four were widows (12%), and eleven of them (33%) were polyandrous marriages, that is, the wives were already “married to other husbands and cohabiting with them when Smith married them” (Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, p.15). Of the eleven polyandrous marriages of Joseph Smith, three had non-Mormon husbands, one was a “disaffected” Mormon husband, but the rest of the eight husbands were faithful Latter-day Saints and friends of Joseph Smith. The evidence indicates that these eight consented to Joseph Smith marrying their wives (ibid., p. 16). In every case that Joseph Smith entered into a polyandrous marriage, he had the polyandrous wife continue to cohabit with her first husband, thus indicating that the nature of such marriages was more focused on the eternities to come than the here and now. Interestingly, the Prophet entered into polyandrous relationships more regularly at the beginning of his plural marriage career than towards the end of it, indicating that it was not an idea that was merely warmed up to over time, but was an integral part of his obedience to the plural marriage commandment from the outset.
         Why were such unions as polyandry made? It should be remembered that Joseph Smith received the sealing power directly under the hand of Elijah (D&C 110:13-16). This sealing power, particularly in Joseph’s view, was every bit as legitimate if not more so than any civil marriage (Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, p.17-18). Joseph apparently held the sentiment that marriages not done by the sealing power of Elijah were invalid anyway (ibid., p.17-18), and therefore could be virtually disregarded, especially by one holding the true authority to marry and who carries the mandate of divine commandment. Or, as Jedediah M. Grant explained regarding Joseph Smith's polyandrous marriages, “Joseph says all covenants are done away, and none are binding but the new covenants” (Jedediah M. Grant, Journal of Discourses, 2:13-14). There is also evidence that, at least in some particular cases, there was a covenant in the pre-existence that those women should be the wives of Joseph Smith in eternity. This circumstance was the doctrine of “kindred spirits” (Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, p.19). “Certain spirits were ‘kindred,’ matched in heaven, were born into this life, and, because of unauthorized marriages performed without priesthood sealing power, became linked ‘illegally’ to the wrong partners” (ibid.). Also, as has already been mentioned, polyandrous unions were a means of testing the commitment to the Lord and his work of those who were called upon to sacrifice, as in the case of Orson Hyde. As Jedidiah M. Grant said, “I would ask you if Jehovah has not in all ages tried His people by the power of Lucifer and his associates; and on the other hand, has He not tried them and proved them by His Prophets?” (Jedediah M. Grant, Journal of Discourses, 2:13-14).

 

Polyandrous Marriages – On Earth and In the Eternities

         Some will wonder what effect a polyandrous marriage union will have in the eternities to come. The simple fact is that the polyandrous marriage relationships which Joseph Smith entered into would endure only on this earth. In the eternities, only Joseph would have claim on those wives, and not the original husbands by civil marriage. It is as the scriptures say: “Therefore, if a man marry him a wife in the world, and he marry her not by me nor by my word, and he covenant with her so long as he is in the world and she with him, their covenant and marriage are not of force when they are dead, and when they are out of the world; therefore, they are not bound by any law when they are out of the world.” (D&C 132:15). The polyandrous nature of the marriage therefore ends at the death or divorce of the original husband by civil marriage. Therefore, there is no such thing as a polyandrous marriage in the celestial kingdom.

 

Marital Relations between Joseph Smith and His Wives

         What still might be scandalous to some is the fact that these marriages of Joseph Smith, being marriages, at least some of them involved sexual intercourse (Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, p.12-15). If this is still a shocking notion to the reader, they are invited to re-read the above headings, “Sex is Not Inherently Evil,” and “Is Plural Marriage Adultery?” in order to come to terms with this shocking situation which really should not be shocking. It is believed that the Prophet Joseph even apparently had children by some of his plural wives (ibid., p. 12). This is fortunate, since at least in this regard Joseph Smith can have a righteous earthly posterity, even though after his death his first and public wife Emma left the Church and through her abysmal lack of proper guidance, so did all of her and Joseph’s children.
         Sex may have been involved in most or all of Joseph Smith’s marriages, including his polyandrous marriages. If that were the case, there would be no impropriety in this, even if all of his marriages were sexual, since “Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled” (Heb. 13:4, emphasis added). And the marriages of Joseph Smith, done with the very sealing power of Elijah, were every bit as legitimate as and more so than the polyandrous wives’ original civil marriages. The author/historian Todd Compton, however, doubts very highly that Joseph Smith engaged in sexual activity with the wives which were older than him. It also seems highly doubtful that Joseph Smith engaged in sexual relations with his youngest wife, Helen Mar Kimball (aged 14 at the time of her marriage), judging by Helen’s perception and understanding of the marriage relationship she had with the Prophet. It is apparent that she initially understood the marriage to be for the eternities only and that she was free to marry a younger man for this life, however this was not the actual nature of her marriage covenant with the Prophet. Had Helen been sexually intimate with the Prophet, it would be hard to see why she would come to her naive conclusion. To reiterate, while sexual contact would have been permissible for each of the Prophet’s marriages and may have occurred in each marriage (and we know without doubt that sex was involved in at least some of the marriage unions), it is highly doubtful that there were sexual dimensions to all of his marriages.      
         Though we know beyond doubt that many of Joseph’s plural marriages did involve a sexual dimension, whether his polyandrous marriages did or not is quite ambiguous. There is the famous instance of Josephine Lyon Fisher, who issued an affidavit saying that her mother, Sylvia Sessions Lyon, a polyandrous plural wife of Joseph Smith, while on her deathbed, declared to Josephine that “I [Josephine] was a daughter of the Prophet Joseph Smith” (Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, p.21). Taken at face value, this means very simply that Josephine was the biological daughter of Joseph Smith. Again, if this was the case, there is no impropriety whatsoever. However, this can also be interpreted that Josephine was a daughter of Joseph Smith in the eternities, and not biologically, because of the sealing power. And so the question of whether Joseph Smith had sex with his polyandrous wives is not completely answered, and the issue remains somewhat ambiguous.
         With all of his polyandrous wives, whether their original husbands had consented to their wives’ marriage to Joseph or not, Joseph Smith instructed them to continue to live with their original husbands (Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, p.143). This pattern was broken, however, when Joseph Smith died and Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball married most of his wives.

 

The Character of Joseph Smith

         Volumes could be written on the good nature and works of the Prophet Joseph Smith. We will discuss just a few statements by his contemporaries, however, in order to put into perspective the character of this noble man. Though misunderstood and hated by the world, Joseph Smith was a true servant of Jesus Christ. Eliza R. Snow, one of Joseph’s plural wives, said this regarding his character:

 

                                                              In the cause of truth and righteousness – in all that would benefit
                                                              his fellow man, his integrity was as firm as the pillars of Heaven. 
                                                              He knew that God had called him to the work, and all the powers
                                                              of earth and hell combined, failed either to deter or divert him from
                                                              his purpose. With the help of God and his brethren, he laid the 
                                                              foundation of the greatest work ever established by man – a work
                                                              extending not only to all the living, and to all the generations to
                                                              come, but also to the dead.
                                                              He boldly and bravely confronted the false traditions, superstitions,
                                                              religions, bigotry and ignorance of the world – proved himself true
                                                              to every heaven-revealed principle – true to his brethren and true to
                                                              God, then sealed his testimony with his blood.
                                                              (Eliza R. Snow as quoted in Teachings of Presidents of the
                                                              Church: Joseph Smith
, p. 495).

 

         Jesse N. Smith, a cousin to the Prophet Joseph, said that the Prophet was “incomparably the most God-like man I ever saw…I know that by nature he was incapable of lying and deceitfulness, possessing the greatest kindness and nobility of character. I felt when in his presence that he could read me through and through. I know that he was all that he claimed to be” (ibid., p. 499). Agnes Moulton Coolbrith, the widow of Don Carlos Smith and subsequently a plural wife of Joseph Smith, later in life said of Joseph Smith, “there is none greater, there is none better, none more honest and upright” (Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, p. 166, punctuation altered). Likewise, Emily Dow Partridge, another of the Prophet’s plural wives, wrote of him in her diary while in old age, “He was one of the noblest of men, and those who knew him best, loved him best” (ibid. p. 431).
         Benjamin F. Johnson, who was privy to the Prophet Joseph Smith’s plural marriages from early on stated, “I feel in every degree incompetent to the task of recounting what I have witnessed in the life and character of our great Prophet...he was nobility itself, in love and honor of his parents; as a brother he was loving and true, even unto death; as a husband and father, his devotion to wives and children stopped only at idolatry” (Hyrum L. Andrus and Helen Mae Andrus, comps., They Knew the Prophet, p. 88).
         And of course, another close associate of Joseph Smith, John Taylor, who was there with the Prophet on the day of his death, said that Joseph and his brother Hyrum were “the best blood of the nineteenth century” (D&C 135:6). Brigham Young, the successor to the Prophet Joseph Smith, bore his testimony to the character of the Prophet. He said:

 

                                                              Who can justly say aught against Joseph Smith? I was as well 
                                                              acquainted with him, as any man. I do not believe that his father
                                                              and mother knew him any better than I did. I do not think that a
                                                              man lives on the earth that knew him any better than I did; and I
                                                              am bold to say that, Jesus Christ excepted, no better man ever lived
                                                              or does live upon this earth. I am his witness. He was persecuted
                                                              for the same reason that any other righteous person has been or is
                                                              persecuted at the present day.
                                                              (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 9: 332)

 

The Wives of Joseph Smith


         The Doctrine & Covenants says of Joseph Smith’s plural wives, “And let mine handmaid, Emma Smith, receive all those that have been given unto my servant Joseph, and who are virtuous and pure before me; and those who are not pure, and have said they were pure, shall be destroyed, saith the Lord God” (D&C 132:52). What follows is a list of the wives of Joseph Smith, including a brief explanation of the circumstances that surrounded their marriages to him. This list follows Todd Compton’s “list of thirty-three well-documented wives of Joseph Smith” (Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, p.2), with the exception that it includes his first wife, Emma. The Prophet may have married other women in addition to those on this list, but in Compton’s professional and well-respected view, the evidence is not sufficient to make such conclusions. As has already been mentioned, additional wives were sealed to Joseph Smith after his death by proxy. Those women are not included in this list. Unless otherwise noted, all of the below information was taken from Todd Compton’s In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith. Some spelling and punctuation of historical accounts has been modified.

 

1) Emma Hale – Emma Hale married Joseph Smith on January 18, 1827. She was the first wife of the Prophet Joseph Smith and the only one who was known to be his wife among the general public. The Prophet adored Emma and referred to her as, “my beloved Emma…even the wife of my youth, and the choice of my heart” (History of the Church, 5: 107). Emma, however, hated the doctrine of plural marriage and Joseph’s obedience to it. As Orson Pratt recalled, “She was embittered against Joseph, her husband, and at times fought against him with all her heart [regarding the issue of plural marriage]; and then again she would break down in her feelings, and humble herself before God and call upon His holy name, and would then lead forth ladies and place their hands in the hands of Joseph, and they were married to him according to the law of God” (Journal of Discourses, 13:194). Emma did not stay true to the truth, however, and her unstable nature and hatred for plural marriage got the better of her. She abused her position as the first president of the Relief Society, and used her position to speak out against plural marriage (BYU Studies, vol. 36 (1996-97), #1--1996-97). After the death of Joseph she spurned the Quorum of the Twelve and refused to go westward. In 1847, she married Major Lewis Bidamon, a non-Mormon of “questionable” reputation (Richard N. Skousen, Brother Joseph, vol. 2, p. 913). Emma actually left the Church and joined a Methodist congregation, effectively cutting off all ties and covenants she had with the true Church (The Mormon Succession Crisis of 1844, BYU Studies, vol. 16 (1975-1976), #1 - Autumn 1975, 230). In April 6, 1860, Emma joined the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, aligning herself with a false church for the second time (Emma Smith: An Elect Lady, Susan Easton Black, p. 12). She died April 30, 1879, in Nauvoo, Illinois, at the age of 74 (ibid., p. 13). She died outside of the Church, a disgraced apostate and member of the false Reorganized Church (Emma Smith: An Elect Lady, Susan Easton Black, p. 71), and to her dying day denied that Joseph had any involvement with plural marriage (ibid., p. 74-75).

2) Fanny Alger – Around 1833, Joseph Smith apparently made plans to marry Clarissa Reed, a girl working as a servant in his house. However, Clarissa told the Prophet that she loved Levi Hancock, a friend of Joseph Smith’s. Out of respect for her wishes, Joseph approached Levi and said, “Brother Levi, I want to make a bargain with you. If you will get Fanny Alger [Levi Hancock’s niece] for me for a wife, you may have Clarissa Reed. I love Fanny.” Levi happily did this, and approached his brother-in-law, Samuel Alger, about the arrangement. Levi said, “Samuel, the Prophet loves your daughter Fanny, and wishes her for a wife. What say you?” Samuel replied, “Go and talk to the old woman about it – twill be as she says.” Levi did so and repeated the same proposal, after which Fanny’s mother [Levi’s sister] in turn referred Levi to Fanny herself. Levi said, “Fanny, Brother Joseph the Prophet loves you for a wife. Will you be his wife?” To this Fanny said, “I will, Levi.” Then Levi escorted Fanny to the Prophet, and Levi performed the sealing as directed by Joseph Smith. This happened probably in early 1833, when Fanny would have been about age 16, and Joseph age 28. It seems that Fanny was also a servant or a boarder in the Smith home, but when Emma found out about the marriage union between her and Joseph, she threw Fanny out of the house. Interestingly, Fanny’s family left Kirtland for Missouri in 1836, but Fanny stayed in Indiana. According to Benjamin F. Johnson, “[Fanny] soon married one of the citizens there [in Indiana], and although she never left the state, she did not turn from the Church nor from her friendship for the Prophet while she lived.”

3) Lucinda Pendleton – Lucinda was the widow of the very famous William Morgan, who was allegedly assassinated by the Masonic fraternity just prior to him publishing an anti-Masonic exposé. In 1830, Lucinda married George Washington Harris, a prominent and faithful Mormon who served as a high councilor (an equivalent to a General Authority in those days) in Missouri, Illinois, and also Nebraska. Lucinda was apparently Joseph’s second plural wife and his first polyandrous wife, since Joseph Smith married her probably in 1838 when she was about age 37, yet Harris continued to cohabit with her until around 1853. Both Lucinda and George W. Harris were loyal to Joseph Smith, and when Joseph was martyred and his body returned to Nauvoo, Lucinda wept bitterly over his body. Afterward, George and Lucinda together received their endowment when the Nauvoo temple was completed, and the next month, on January 22, 1846, Lucinda was sealed (or apparently re-sealed) to Joseph Smith by Brigham Young, with George acting as proxy. Lucinda divorced George around 1853 for unknown reasons, never went west with the Saints (neither did George W. Harris), and joined the Catholic “Sisters of Charity.”

4) Louisa Beaman – Louisa was the daughter of a family well-known to Joseph Smith’s family. Part of the Beaman family joined the Church and in the autumn of 1840, Joseph Smith taught the doctrine of plural marriage to Joseph Bates Noble, the brother-in-law of Louisa. Joseph Smith then asked Noble to be the officiator in a marriage between himself and Louisa, saying, “In revealing this to you, I have placed my life in your hands, therefore do not in an evil hour betray me to my enemies.” According to a family tradition, Louisa prayed fervently for a testimony of the principle of plural marriage, and having received it, accepted the marriage proposal of the Prophet Joseph Smith. They were married April 5, 1841, when Louisa was age 26 and Joseph was age 35, in a grove near the Main Street of Nauvoo, with Joseph Smith directing the ceremony and Noble officiating as instructed. In order to avoid scandal, Louisa was disguised as a man to conceal her identity. Had this not been done, Joseph’s life would have been placed in great danger. The marriage was consummated at Noble’s house that evening. Louisa later helped prepare another plural wife for a marriage ceremony and served as a witness to it, when the Prophet married Almera Johnson in 1843. At the death of Joseph Smith, Louisa turned to her network of sister-wives and became strong friends with the notable Zina D. Huntington. Louisa eventually married Brigham Young. In January 14, 1846 she was sealed to Joseph Smith for eternity with Brigham Young as proxy (which meant, according to the custom of the time, that she was marrying Brigham Young for “time” or until death). Louisa bore Brigham Young five children but lost them all to early death. She herself died of breast cancer in 1850.

5) Zina Diantha Huntington – The Huntington family, Zina, her parents and siblings, were strong believers in the need for a restored primitive Christianity. Zina joined the Church in 1835 and was baptized by Hyrum Smith. Upon moving to Nauvoo, the Huntington family fell ill and was invited to live temporarily at the house of the Prophet. In this setting, Zina mingled with her future husband the Prophet Joseph, and also met her other future husband, Henry Jacobs, a faithful Mormon who was much closer in age to Zina. During Zina’s courtship with Henry, the Prophet Joseph taught her the principle of plural marriage and proposed marriage to her. However, initially Zina did not accept the proposal. In 1841 she married Henry Jacobs. Shortly after their marriage, Joseph Smith the Prophet related to them that the Lord commanded that Zina should be the celestial companion of the Prophet, but that Zina and Henry could continue to cohabit as a married couple. According to family history, Henry was accepting of this while Zina was troubled by it. Zina did not accept the proposal until she was told of the occurrence in which an angel with sword in hand appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith and threatened his life unless he engaged in the practice. This persuaded her to marry the Prophet, which she did on October 27, 1841, at age 20. Zina recorded in writing that it was not the persistence of Joseph Smith that convinced her to enter plural marriage, but that she had received a spiritual witness of it. Henry Jacobs approved of the marriage union between his wife Zina and the Prophet. As promised, Henry and Zina continued to cohabit as husband and wife. Zina had two children by Henry Jacobs. After the death of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young approached her for “Levirate marriage” obligations, and she consented to his proposal, once again creating a polyandrous relationship for Zina, this time with Brigham Young and Henry Jacobs. Henry Jacobs was faithful through all of this, and even stood as witness to the ceremony in the Nauvoo temple in which Zina was sealed to Joseph Smith for eternity and Brigham as proxy (and therefore her rightful earthly husband). Zina began to openly cohabit exclusively with Brigham Young at Winter Quarters and over passage of time considered her marriage with Henry Jacobs to be terminated. She bore Brigham Young two children. She went on to be a very influential woman in the Church, becoming the third president of the Relief Society (after Emma Smith and Eliza R. Snow), and died in 1901.   

6) Presendia Lathrop Huntington – Presendia was Zina Diantha Huntington’s older sister. She married a man named Norman Buell on January 6, 1827, at age 16 (Norman was 22), prior to joining the Church. They joined the Church together. Presendia had seven children by Norman, five of which died young. Norman Buell eventually apostatized from the Church after a few years, but Presendia remained very faithful. Presendia twice visited the Prophet Joseph Smith along with others while he was incarcerated in Liberty Jail. Sometime around the time that the Prophet Joseph Smith married Presendia’s sister Zina, he also proposed marriage to Presendia. An associate recorded, “Joseph himself taught the principle of plural marriage to Sister Presendia, and her heart was humble, and her mind open to receive the revelations of heaven…she accepted the sealing ordinance with Joseph as a sacred and holy confirmation.” Joseph Smith and Presendia were married on December 11, 1841, when Presendia was 31 years old, with her brother performing the ordinance. She continued to live with her original husband, Norman (he was probably not aware of her sealing to Joseph). After the death of Joseph Smith, in 1845, Presendia married Heber C. Kimball, creating her second polyandrous relationship. On  January 10, 1846, she was sealed to Joseph Smith for eternity with Heber C. Kimball as proxy. All of this was apparently done without Norman Buell’s knowledge. Months after this, Presendia left Norman Buell to live exclusively as a proxy wife of Heber C. Kimball. She bore Heber C. Kimball two children, one of which died in infancy. She became close friends with Heber C. Kimball’s first wife, Vilate. Vilate was, according to Helen Mar Kimball, “their [Heber’s plural wives] dearest and most enduring friend.” This is in stark contrast to Emma Smith’s foul attitude towards plural marriage. Presendia died in 1892.

7) Agnes Moulton Coolbrith – Agnes was the wife of Joseph Smith’s youngest brother, Don Carlos. Agnes had three daughters by Don Carlos. When Don Carlos died in 1841, Joseph married her according to the scriptural Levirate custom, which is, “If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without unto a stranger: her husband's brother shall go in unto her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of an husband's brother unto her” (Deut. 25:5). Don Carlos, according to one tradition, on his death bed asked Joseph to marry Agnes after he died. The wedding date was probably on January 6, 1842, when Agnes was 33 years old. After the death of Joseph, on January 28, 1846, Agnes was sealed to Don Carlos for eternity with George A. Smith, a cousin to Joseph and Don Carlos, standing as proxy, making George her new earthly husband. For some ambiguous reason, Agnes did not journey west with the rest of the Church. Instead, she stayed behind and married a “lukewarm Mormon” named William Pickett in 1847 and later moved to California with her husband during the gold rush (stopping in Zion – today’s Utah – for a brief stretch of time). The family thus fell away from the Church. While in California, Porter Rockwell happened to visit Agnes who was then sick with typhoid fever and had lost her hair. Rockwell therefore cut off his long hair to make a wig for her, the same long hair which Joseph Smith apparently promised would be a Samson-like protection to Rockwell against enemies and evil. Porter Rockwell testified that after cutting off his hair, “from that time he said that he could not control the desire for strong drink, nor the habit of swearing.” Agnes had twin boys by William. After many years, this marriage failed. Agnes died December 26, 1876, age 68. Interestingly, Agnes and Don Carlos’ daughter, Josephine “Ina” Coolbrith, became a famous poetess in California.

8) Sylvia Sessions – Sylvia is the daughter of Patty Bartlett, another plural wife of Joseph Smith. On April 21, 1838, at age 19, Sylvia married Windsor P. Lyon while in Missouri. Joseph Smith performed the ceremony. On February 8, 1842, at age 23, Sylvia was sealed to Joseph Smith in Nauvoo. There is almost no historical information available about the details of this union. Nothing is known historically about Windsor’s feelings regarding Joseph’s marriage to Sylvia, or even whether he knew of it or not. But at the time of the marriage Windsor was a faithful member of the Church. On March 19, 1842, Marian Lyon, the first child of Sylvia and Windsor, died. The next day the child, who was now actually sealed to Joseph Smith rather than Windsor, was taken to Joseph Smith while he was preaching to a congregation. This induced him to give a remarkable sermon on the salvation of children (see also History of the Church 4:553-554). Later that year, Windsor was excommunicated from the Church over a disagreement he had with William Marks, Nauvoo Stake President. He nevertheless did not fall out of good rapport with the Prophet and other Church leaders and was eventually rebaptized in 1846. Windsor loaned Joseph Smith money and according to their family tradition “was a true friend to the Prophet Joseph Smith.” It is Sylvia Sessions who, according to an affidavit by her daughter Josephine Rosetta Lyon, on her death bed told Josephine “something which she had kept secret as an entire secret from me [Josephine] and from all others but which she now desired to communicate…She then told me [Josephine] that I was a daughter of the Prophet Joseph Smith….” If this is to be understood literally, that Joseph Smith was the biological father of Josephine, there would be no impropriety at all with this since he was legitimately married to Sylvia by the authority of the sealing power of Elijah. Of course, this admission that Josephine was the daughter of Joseph Smith may simply have reference to Josephine being sealed to Joseph Smith for eternity, and not a literal biological parentage. In any case, it seems somewhat ambiguous and doesn’t really matter either way. After the death of Joseph Smith, Sylvia married Heber C. Kimball in her second polyandrous union. According to family tradition, Windsor consented to this arrangement. However, Sylvia continued cohabiting with Windsor P. Lyon, who later took a second wife. Windsor died in 1849, and Sylvia, who had not yet gone west, remarried a non-Mormon whom she later divorced. Afterward, she eventually traveled west, presumably to be with Heber C. Kimball. She died April 13, 1882, at the age of 63.

9) Mary Elizabeth Rollins – Mary’s family moved to Mentor, Ohio near Kirtland around 1828, which is where they first heard of Mormonism. Mary was baptized by Parley P. Pratt that year, at age 12. Mary borrowed Isaac Morley’s copy of the Book of Mormon before he even had a chance to read it. Her enthusiasm for the Book was very notable, and when Joseph Smith visited Kirtland, he was told of her zeal for the Book of Mormon and he asked to see her. Mary recalled, “I was sent for; when he saw me, he looked at me so earnestly, I felt almost afraid [and I thought, ‘He can read my very thought,’ and I thought how blue his eyes were.] after a moment or two he came and put his hands on my head and gave me a great blessing, (the first I ever received) and made me a present of the Book.” A few days later, Mary was present at a meeting in which the Prophet Joseph Smith spoke. Mary testified that as he did so “his countenance shone, and seemed almost transparent – it seems as though the solemnity of eternity rested upon all of us…[He] seemed almost transfixed, he was looking ahead and his face outshone the candle which was on a shelf just behind him.” Joseph then announced that the Savior Jesus Christ had just been in their midst and spoken with him face to face. Later, while in Missouri, Mary was at a meeting where the participants spoke in tongues. Mary interpreted the speech, which turned out to be a prophecy that the Saints would be driven from Missouri by mobs. While working as a seamstress she went to Lilburn W. Boggs’ house (then Lieutenant Governor) when he was having a suit made, and the Boggs family liked her so well that they asked her to leave Mormonism and live with them, but she declined. It was Mary and her sister Caroline who rescued the printer’s manuscript from the W.W. Phelps printing office in 1833 when it was being overrun by a mob, and they hid in a cornfield to protect the manuscripts of the “Book of Commandments” [i.e. Doctrine & Covenants], as the famous story goes. Joseph Smith actually received revelation that Mary was to be his wife as early as 1834, as she recalled, “he was commanded to take me for a wife,” while she was age 16. However Mary was not told about this revelation until 1842, and in the mean time married Adam Lightner (age 25), a friendly non-Mormon, in 1835. According to Mary, “Adam loved the Prophet and [Hyrum],” yet he never did join the Church. Interestingly, Mary had been having prophetic premonitions that she would marry Joseph Smith. “I had been dreaming for a number of years I was his wife,” she said, “I thought I was a great sinner. I prayed to God to take it from me.” But in 1842, Joseph Smith proposed marriage to Mary. He prefaced the proposal with an introduction into the doctrine of plural marriage, then explained that he was commanded to marry her in 1834 but was afraid at the thought, but “The angel came to me three times between the year of ’34 and ’42 and said I was to obey that principle or he would [destroy] me.” Joseph then told her that she was destined to marry him from the pre-existence. Mary recorded, “Joseph said I was his before I came here and he said all the devils in hell should never get me from him,” and, “I was created for him before the foundation of the Earth was laid.” At first Mary did not accept the marriage proposal, but after praying very earnestly and discussing it with Brigham Young, who was part of the polygamy inner circle, she one night saw a vision of an angel in her room. When she told the Prophet Joseph of the event, he told her that it was a sign of what events would happen to her family members. Mary testified that his predictions were fulfilled to the letter, and must have interpreted the vision also as a sign that she should accept the marriage to the Prophet, since she subsequently married him for time and all eternity in late February,1842, at age 23, in the upper room of the Red Brick Store. This, of course, was another polyandrous marriage, since Mary was still married to Adam. Adam probably was not aware of the marriage. Joseph instructed Mary to continue cohabiting with Adam. When Adam and Mary made plans to move some distance from Nauvoo, Joseph Smith tearfully warned her that if she distanced herself from the Church she would fall on hardship before she returned. This was fulfilled also. After the death of Joseph, Mary married Brigham Young as proxy for Joseph Smith, according to the custom. However, she still continued to live with Adam Lightner, and when the Saints went west, they did not. As Todd Compton notes, “Calamity seemed to follow Mary and her family wherever they went.” After many hard years, Adam and Mary’s family moved to Utah. Sometime between 1868 and 1905, as she was promised by Heber C. Kimball, Mary had a vision of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Hyrum and Heber also appeared in that vision) before the time of her death. She died December 17, 1913 at age 95 – the last of Joseph Smith’s wives to die.

10)  Patty Bartlett – Patty is the mother of Sylvia Sessions, another plural wife of Joseph Smith. Patty came in contact with the Restored Gospel and “as soon as [she] heard she believed,” and was baptized in 1834 at the age of 39. Her husband David Sessions also later joined the Church. Patty and David had seven children, four of which died fairly young. At age 47, Patty was sealed to Joseph Smith on March 9, 1842 by Willard Richards, thus creating a polyandrous marriage. Sylvia, her daughter, was present at the ceremony. Patty married Joseph Smith about a month after her daughter Sylvia did. It is unclear whether Patty knew of Sylvia’s marriage to Joseph before her own or not. Todd Compton, the historian used as the source for this information, seems to believe that the evidence indicates that there was not a sexual dimension to this marriage between Patty and Joseph Smith. It is also unclear whether David Sessions knew about this marriage between Joseph and Patty, but he had a friendly and strong relationship with the Prophet. Patty became known for helping initiate other wives into plural marriage with the Prophet Joseph Smith, by coaching and tutoring them. In 1845, David Sessions took a second wife in the Nauvoo temple. However, the second wife did not go with them westward. David took another plural wife in Utah and Patty remained with him until his death, after which she married John Parry, the first conductor of the Tabernacle Choir. She died December 14, 1892, at age 97 (and ten months).

11)  Marinda Nancy Johnson – Marinda Johnson met Joseph Smith for the first time at age 15 in 1831 at the John Johnson farm house in Hiram, Ohio (her parent’s house). She had been away at boarding school and was enraged to come home and find that her parents converted to Mormonism, that strange religion she heard so many rumors about. But upon meeting Joseph Smith, “[S]he felt her very soul laid bare before this man…He smiled and her anger melted as snow before the sunshine. She knew he was what he claimed to be and never doubted him thereafter.” Of course, Joseph Smith stayed in the John Johnson home for a time. Marinda recorded, “I feel like bearing my testimony that during the whole year that Joseph was an inmate of my father’s house I never saw aught in his daily life or conversation to make me doubt his divine mission.” Marinda later married Orson Hyde, the future apostle, in 1833 at age 19 (Orson was 29). Orson was ordained an apostle February 15, 1835, along with Marinda’s brothers Luke and Lyman E. Johnson. Orson was frequently away on missionary endeavors, and Luke and Lyman were excommunicated in 1838. Also in 1838, Orson Hyde and Thomas B. Marsh disaffected and concocted a false and slanderous written accusation against Joseph Smith, which contributed to his imprisonment in Liberty Jail. However, Orson repented by March 1839 and was accepted back into fellowship. On April 15, 1840, Orson Hyde left for Jerusalem as commanded, in order to dedicate that land for the return of the Jews. In April 1842, while Orson Hyde was still on his journey, Marinda married the Prophet Joseph Smith thus creating a polyandrous union. Marinda was age 26, Joseph age 36. The evidence is uncertain whether Orson was aware and consented to the union, which if he did, would have been perhaps out of a sense of sacrifice and wanting to show his level of commitment after his dreadful 1838 apostasy. When Orson Hyde returned to Nauvoo, he was introduced to the plural marriage doctrine and married plural wives with Marinda’s “full consent,” with Joseph Smith officiating. As was sometimes customary at that time, Joseph Smith was around this time re-sealed to Marinda by Brigham Young, perhaps for Orson’s sense of closure. However, Orson and Marinda continued to cohabit. Interestingly, in 1845 after the death of the Prophet Joseph, rather than being sealed by proxy to Joseph again as was the custom, Marinda was sealed for eternity to Orson Hyde. A reflection of this circumstance indicates that the Prophet Joseph Smith’s marriage to Marinda was chiefly meant as a test of loyalty and obedience for Orson Hyde, who had once disgracefully betrayed the Prophet. Apparently Orson was willing to allow the marriage while Joseph was living, but afterwards developed a reluctance to give up his first wife and family to the eternal kingdom of Joseph Smith. However, in 1857, a flip-flop occurred and Marinda was again sealed to Joseph Smith for eternity, rather than Orson. Orson also continued over the years to marry additional young wives. And in 1870 Marinda divorced Orson Hyde for reasons unclear. She died on March 24, 1886, at age 70.

12) Elizabeth Davis – Elizabeth Davis had a multitude of husbands in her lifetime. She married a sailor named Gilbert Goldsmith in 1811 at the age of 20. At the end of 1811, however, a month after their first children (twins, one died) were born, Gilbert drowned. In 1818 or 1819 she married Joseph Brackenbury, a New York State farmer. They moved to not far from the vicinity of Kirtland in 1824. They were baptized in 1831 and Joseph Brackenbury became a preacher and missionary of some note. However, he was apparently maliciously poisoned and died while on a missionary journey January 7, 1832. On March 1834, Elizabeth married Jabez Durfee, a Mormon carpenter. They of course eventually moved to Nauvoo. Probably in the spring of 1842, at age 51, Elizabeth married the Prophet Joseph Smith in another polyandrous marriage. Almost nothing is known about the circumstances surrounding the marriage. Her husband Jabez was a faithful member of the Church, however, and it is possible that he gave his consent as others did. Elizabeth continued to live with Jabez. After her marriage to Joseph Smith she helped arrange other plural marriages for the Prophet. After the death of the Prophet, in 1846, Jabez stood proxy to his dead brother Edmund’s wife, and therefore became her earthly husband in a Levirate marriage union. Since Jabez was married to two women and yet had no eternal companion, Brigham Young oversaw his sealing to a then already deceased woman for eternity. However, the next day, Elizabeth was re-sealed to Joseph Smith with Cornelius Lott (father of Melissa Lott, another plural wife of Joseph Smith) standing as proxy, thus becoming Cornelius’ wife for “time” at age 54 (Cornelius was 48). They then began to head west with the main body of the Saints. Strangely, at Winter Quarters, Elizabeth left Cornelius Lott and went back to Quincy, Illinois. She rekindled her friendship with Emma Smith, another of Joseph Smith’s wives who was not faithful enough to trek west. Elizabeth did eventually come west to Zion in 1855 but left before 1860 for Missouri, then Colorado, then California, then Kansas (close to Independence, Missouri). In a twist of irony, sometime around late 1869, she and her sons joined the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, then led by Joseph Smith III, who spent his life fervently denying that his father had anything to do with plural marriage. Elizabeth died in 1876 at age 85.        

13) Sarah Kingsley – Sarah Kingsley was born in 1788 and converted to the Church not long after having a miraculous dream which both her and her daughter had on the same night in 1835. Before that she married John Howe in 1807 at age 19. Howe died sometime between 1823 and 1826, and prior to that their only son also died. Sarah married John Cleveland in 1826, who was friendly to the Church but never converted to it. They had two children. During the time the Prophet Joseph Smith was in Liberty Jail, Emma Smith stayed with John and Sarah, and later so did the Prophet for weeks after his escape. Sarah probably married Joseph Smith sometime before June 29, 1842, at the age of 54. Before her marriage to the Prophet, Sarah was a witness to his marriage to Eliza R. Snow. Sarah’s marriage to the Prophet was another polyandrous marriage, since she was already married to John Cleveland. Though John was friendly to the Church, he was also a non-Member and it is probably unlikely that he knew anything about the marriage. Sarah became the first counselor to Emma Smith in the Relief Society presidency on March 17, 1842 and helped coin the name “Relief Society.” (Interestingly, both Joseph Smith and John Taylor, who were present at the meeting, disliked the word “relief” in the society’s title. But it was popular with the women so they consented). Emma Smith often used her position in Relief Society to quell rumors of polygamy and sometimes to preach against it. As a secret plural wife to the Prophet Joseph Smith, Sarah was placed in an awkward position of trying to support Emma, the Relief Society president, but still remain true to her marriage with the Prophet. Sarah’s motivation to put down rumors of polygamy were therefore different from Emma’s, who wanted to end the practice, while Sarah had an interest in keeping its practice clandestine. After the death of Joseph Smith, as it was customary to re-seal his wives to him in the Nauvoo temple, Sarah chose John Smith, uncle to the Prophet Joseph Smith, and father-in-law to her daughter, to stand as proxy for the Prophet Joseph. This meant that John Smith entered into a polyandrous marriage with Sarah and John Cleveland, being sealed to Sarah for “time.” However, Sarah continued to cohabit with John Cleveland. Strangely, when the time came to go westward, apparently the weather grew cold and President Young and Kimball advised Sarah to return to John Cleveland. She therefore never came west. Years later her son-in-law, John Lyman, en route to Europe for a mission, traveled from Utah to Plymouth, Illinois, where Sarah and John Cleveland were living. He recorded, “Mother [Sarah] had joined a church a couple of weeks before my arrival. I bore my testimony to her. She seemed to have forgotten what her feelings were once.” She died April 21, 1856.

14) Delcena Johnson – Delcena is one of another sister pair of Joseph Smith’s wives, being the sister of Almera Johnson. She was also the sister of Benjamin F. Johnson, loyal friend of the Prophet Joseph’s Smith. Delcena was born in Vermont in 1806 after which her family moved to New York. In 1829, at the age of 22, Delcena married Lyman Royal Sherman (age 24). They eventually had six children together. Delcena was baptized into the Church along with most of her family in the early 1830s. Delcena’s husband Lyman was known for his faithfulness, was a participator in Zion’s Camp, and was later ordained to be a president of the original Quorum of the Seventy. Benjamin F. Johnson said that Joseph Smith taught Lyman Sherman the principle of plural marriage in 1835. Lyman Sherman is also the subject of the revelation comprising Section 108 of the Doctrine and Covenants. Lyman became ill and died in 1839, not long after being considered for a calling to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (he was never notified of the call). Therefore Delcena was a widow when Joseph Smith married her in July of 1842 in what author Todd Compton describes as, “something of a Levirate marriage, marrying the widow of a brother in the gospel, as it were.” Benjamin F. Johnson was on a mission at the time and later wrote, “The marriage of my eldest sister [Delcena] to the Prophet was before my return to Nauvoo. And, it being tacitly admitted, I asked no questions.” Benjamin also indicated that this marriage was “by proxy,” which may have meant that Joseph Smith was married to Delcena for time only, standing as proxy for Lyman Sherman, who would be sealed to Delcena for eternity. Delcena then lived with Louisa Beaman, another plural wife of Joseph Smith, and they both evidently received financial support from the Prophet. After the death of Joseph Smith, Heber C. Kimball sealed Delcena for eternity to Lyman Sherman, with Almon Babbitt standing as proxy and therefore her earthly husband for time. Due to delays and poor health, Delcena did not reach the Salt Lake Valley until 1854. She died shortly after in poor health at Almon Babbitt’s house on October 21, 1854, at the age of 47. 

15) Eliza Roxcy Snow – Eliza R. Snow is the most famous of Joseph Smith’s plural wives. She was the sister of Lorenzo Snow, fifth President of the Church, and the second General Relief Society President once that organization was resumed in Utah. She is also famous as a writer and poetess. Eliza was born in 1804 in Massachusetts. The family later moved to Ohio. In 1828 the Snow family was converted to Sidney Rigdon’s church. Eliza first met Joseph Smith in the winter of 1831-32 when he visited the Snow home. She recalled that, “as he sat warming himself, I scrutinized his face as closely as I could without attracting his attention, and decided that his was an honest face.” But Eliza didn’t join the Church until 1835. In December of that year she moved to Kirtland and lived with Joseph Smith’s family. It was around this time that Eliza encouraged her brother Lorenzo (later the fifth President of the Church) to come to Kirtland to learn Hebrew. This led to his conversion. Eliza taught school both in Kirtland and Nauvoo. At the organization of the Relief Society, Eliza wrote the constitution and bylaws of the organization. She was also appointed Secretary in the Relief Society. When Eliza first began to hear rumors of polygamy around this time, she considered it “repugnant.” However, she gradually converted to the truthfulness of the doctrine, considering it a Biblical practice. In time, Eliza stated, she “grew in love with it [the principle of plural marriage],” and she remained a stalwart advocate of it throughout her life. Eliza was married to the Prophet Joseph Smith on June 29, 1842, with Brigham Young officiating and Sarah Cleveland acting as witness. Eliza was 38 years old and single, and Joseph was 36. Eliza later stated, “This [i.e. the marriage], one of the most important circumstances of my life, I never had had cause to regret.” She referred to Joseph Smith as, “my beloved husband, the choice of my heart and the crown of my life.” Eliza apparently wrote Joseph love letters, much to volatile Emma Smith’s displeasure upon finding them. Interestingly however, Eliza later told Angus Cannon, her stake president in Salt Lake City, that Emma Smith had agreed to the marriage between her and Joseph. According to Angus Cannon, Heber C. Kimball once asked Eliza R. Snow if she was still a virgin even after being married to Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. Eliza replied, “I thought you knew Joseph Smith better than that.” This characteristically witty comment from Eliza R. Snow reveals that Joseph Smith did not fear to partake of the sexual aspect of marriage, and did so without shame. After Eliza’s marriage to Joseph, she went to live in the Smith home at the invitation of Emma. This living arrangement did not last, however, and there are unconfirmed stories that Emma pushed Eliza down the staircase of the home out of jealousy, causing Eliza to miscarry Joseph’s child she was pregnant with. At the death of Joseph Smith, Eliza was so overcome with grief that she prayed for herself to die. Then one night the Prophet Joseph appeared to her in spirit and asked her to quit praying for death, since both he and God desired her to live to an old age and do a great work. On October 3, 1844, Eliza accepted marriage to Brigham Young for “time.” She lived in Brigham Young’s family until her death, but she never had children by President Young, nor did she take his surname. In fact, Eliza R. Snow never bore any children. She died December 5, 1887 at the age of 83.  

16) Sarah Ann Whitney – Sarah Ann Whitney was the daughter of Newel K. Whitney and Elizabeth Ann Whitney. Newel was the first bishop of the Church in Kirtland, and who was later called as the Presiding Bishop of the Church after the death of Edward Partridge. Elizabeth would later serve as a counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency. Sarah was great friends with another of Joseph’s Smith’s young wives, Helen Mar Kimball. When considering both Sarah Ann Whitney and Helen Mar Kimball, Todd Compton notes, “Both married Joseph Smith as a first husband while still in their teens, creating dynastic, family-linking sealings between their fathers and Smith, then each married into the other’s family in second marriages for time – Helen Mar marrying Sarah Ann’s brother, and Sarah Ann marrying Helen Mar’s father.” Sarah was born in Kirtland, Ohio on March 22, 1825. The Whitney family joined the Church in 1830 after a miraculous vision and hearing the preaching of the elders. Not long afterward, when the Prophet Joseph Smith came to Kirtland, he and Emma stayed with the Whitney family for many weeks. Sarah, who was 6 years old at this time, would have had opportunity to know the Prophet quite well because of this. Elizabeth, Sarah’s mother, recalled that her children were “devotedly attached to Joseph [Smith].” According to Todd Compton, Sarah Ann’s marriage to Joseph Smith was “very much a family activity.” After Newel received his endowment, the Prophet Joseph Smith introduced to doctrine of plural marriage to Newel and Elizabeth his wife. Typically, Newel and Elizabeth were revolted at first, but Joseph instructed Newel to inquire of the Lord regarding its truthfulness, and promised Newel that if he did, God would reveal it to him. True to form, that is exactly what happened. Elizabeth Whitney recalled, “We were seemingly wrapped in a heavenly vision…Our hearts were comforted and our faith 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…laying aside all our traditions and former notions in regard to marriage, we gave her with our mutual consent.” Sarah was married to the Prophet on July 27, 1842 by her father Newel K. Whitney, and her mother Elizabeth as a witness. She was age 17 and single. It seems that Sarah was quite accepting of the marriage and the doctrine underlying it. It is clear that a major motivation behind this plural marriage was to eternally link Joseph Smith and the Newel K. Whitney family, that is, it had an important “dynastic” dimension to it. Joseph’s close friends, which Newel K. Whitney was certainly among, often desired to secure an eternal family relationship to the Prophet. However, it is also clear that this marriage came by command from revelation. The revelation was recorded on the date of the marriage and reads: “Verily, thus saith the Lord unto my servant N.K. Whitney, the thing that my servant Joseph Smith has made known unto you and your family and which you have agreed upon is right in mine eyes and shall be rewarded upon your heads with honor and immortality and eternal life to all your house, both old and young because of the lineage of my priesthood, saith the Lord, it shall be upon you and upon your children after you from generation to generation, by virtue of the holy promise which I now make unto you, saith the Lord.” (It should be recognized by the reader that this revelation must be interpreted with the understanding that personal and individual righteousness is also essential to realize the blessings of exaltation (D&C 132:21-23)). The revelatory document then went on to describe the details of the eternal marriage ceremony which Newel K. Whitney was to administer, which was this: “These are the words which you shall pronounce upon my servant Joseph and your daughter S.A. Whitney. They shall take each other by the hand and you shall say, ‘You both mutually agree,’ calling them by name, ‘to be each other’s companion so long as you both shall live, preserving yourselves for each other and from all others and also throughout eternity, reserving only those rights which have been given to my servant Joseph by revelation and commandment and by legal authority in times past. If you both agree to covenant and do this, I then give you, S.A. Whitney, my daughter, to Joseph Smith, to be his wife, to observe all the rights between you both that belong to that condition. I do it in my own name and in the name of my wife, your mother, and in the name of my holy progenitors, by the right of birth which is of priesthood, vested in me by revelation and commandment and promise of the living God, obtained by the Holy Melchizedek Jethro and others of the Holy Fathers, commanding in the name of the Lord all those powers to concentrate in you and through you to your posterity forever. All these things I do in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and through this order he may be glorified and that through the power of anointing David may reign King over Israel, which shall hereafter be revealed. Let immortality and eternal life hereafter be sealed upon your heads forever and ever.” Once when Joseph was in hiding, he wrote a letter requesting Newel, Elizabeth, and Sarah to come and visit him at times when Emma would not be there (apparently Emma was not privy to this plural marriage and would have opposed it). Interestingly, on April 29, 1843, Joseph Smith married Sarah Ann Whitney to Joseph Kingsbury in a civil ceremony. It was recognized by all three as a “pretended” marriage to disguise Sarah’s true marriage to the Prophet Joseph Smith. This circumstance shows the relative disregard which the Prophet, who had received the sealing power from Elijah himself, had for civil marriages without divine authority. This façade marriage would have no sexual dimension and be a front only. Joseph Kingsbury, who was a widower, recalled that as a result of his obedience to this odd but temporary request, he was promised that he would receive “great glory and honor and eternal lives to the full desire of my heart in having my companion Caroline [his first wife] in the first Resurrection to claim her and no one to have power to take her from me, and we both shall be crowned and enthroned together in the celestial kingdom.” After the death of Joseph Smith, the façade marriage between Joseph Kingsbury and Sarah Ann Whitney eventually dissolved and Joseph Kingsbury married another woman. On March 17, 1845, Sarah Ann Whitney married Heber C. Kimball, her best friend’s father, shortly before she was 20 years of age (Heber was 43). This marriage was also seen as a dynastic marriage, though not in the eternal sense. Sarah did however bear Heber children. Sarah died of illness on September 4, 1873, at age 48. 

17) Martha McBride – Martha McBride was born March 17, 1805 in Chester, New York. In 1826 at age 21, Martha married Vinson Knight (age 22), who would later become prominent in the early Church as a bishop. Both Vinson and Martha were baptized in 1834. Prior to this, in 1833, they met Joseph Smith for the first time when Martha happened to be extremely ill. The doctor gave her 5 years to live, but Joseph Smith blessed her that she would live to “a good old age.” The Knights became close friends with Joseph Smith. While in Nauvoo, the Prophet Joseph taught Vinson the doctrine of plural marriage, and Vinson accepted the doctrine and took to himself a second wife whose husband died in the Haun’s Mill Massacre. Before doing so, Vinson approached Martha with the idea, explaining that the Prophet had revealed to him a new doctrine and instructed him to enter into plural marriage, and that he (Vinson) thought that this certain widow would be someone he could help through such an arrangement. Martha’s casual reply was, “Is that all?” Vinson received his Master Mason’s degree with Joseph Smith in attendance at the Masonic Lodge, and Vinson signed a statement defending Joseph Smith’s character against the slanderous attacks of John C. Bennett. However, Vinson contracted an illness and died in 1842. This left Martha as a widow, but she married Joseph Smith within a month in another “Levirate marriage” of Joseph Smith to the widow of one of his close associates. This was done in the spirit of the Old Testament law and was seen as a duty of sorts in the early days of plural marriage. Martha married Joseph Smith in August 1842, at age 37 (Joseph was 36), with Heber C. Kimball performing the ceremony. An acquaintance of Martha’s named Sylvester Stoddard, who despised plural marriage, had an interest in Martha and tried to persuade her from her allegiance to it. Oddly, according to Todd Compton, Stoddard “began to court [Martha].” There was once a time when Joseph Smith approached Martha with a marriage proposal to her oldest daughter in behalf of his brother Hyrum. However, when Martha relayed it to her daughter, then a teenager, her daughter refused the marriage proposal to Hyrum. After the death of Joseph Smith, Martha asked for a lock of the Prophet’s hair, and she kept it in a locket and treasured it throughout her life. After Joseph’s death, Martha married Heber C. Kimball for “time” and chose to be sealed to Joseph Smith, not Vinson, for eternity. Unfortunately, around this time Martha’s oldest daughter who had refused marriage to Hyrum Smith ran away with Sylvester Stoddard to Ohio and therefore effectively left the Church. Martha had one child by Heber C. Kimball. While exploring regions of Utah with family members, Martha was trampled by oxen and had an out-of-body experience during her short time of death, in which she “saw her body as it lay in the dust, and at the house as if she was standing to one side with the rest of the people looking on.” She was of course revived, however. Martha finally died on November 20, 1901, at the age of 96.   

18) Ruth Vose – Ruth Vose was born February 26, 1808 in Massachusetts. She may have met Joseph Smith during his 1832 visit to Boston. Ruth was baptized into the Church probably in 1836 by Brigham Young. While still living in Boston, Ruth donated “every dollar that she earned, except what she needed for her bare support” towards the building of the Kirtland temple. Ruth continued these donations until she received communication from Joseph Smith, wherein he said, “It is enough.” At some point, Ruth traveled westward to Missouri and married Edward Sayers, a non-Mormon, at the age of 33 (Edward was 38). They had no children. Edward Sayers was friendly with Joseph Smith and lived among Mormons, after marrying Ruth, for the rest of his life. Edward and Ruth moved to Nauvoo in 1841. While in hiding from Missourian authorities, Joseph Smith and some associates stayed with the Sayers for a week. Six months later, in February 1843, Joseph Smith married Ruth, with Hyrum officiating. This was another polyandrous marriage of the Prophet’s, since Ruth was already married to Edward Sayers. However, as was always the case with Joseph Smith’s polyandrous marriages, he instructed Ruth to continue to cohabit with her first husband, Edward. Nothing is known about the details of Ruth’s marriage to the Prophet, or whether Edward was aware of it or not. After the death of Joseph Smith, Edward and Ruth moved back to Boston until 1849, but then traveled to Utah. They resided in Utah for the rest of their lives. Her aunt and oft-times living companion, Polly, was sealed to Joseph Smith posthumously in 1858, thus making them sister-wives in the eternities. Ruth died on August 18, 1884, at the age of 76.       

19) Flora Ann Woodworth – Flora Ann Woodworth was born November 14, 1826. She was one of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s youngest wives, having married him at the age of 16. Her father, Lucien Woodworth, was a close friend of Joseph Smith. This indicates another dynastic marriage, although as Todd Compton notes, in addition to this, “As is generally true of marriage, psychological and sexual attraction probably were also factors in the union.” For some reason unknown, Joseph Smith referred to Lucien Woodworth affectionately as “the pagan prophet,” and this nickname stuck. Joseph Smith married Flora Ann Woodworth in the spring of 1843, most likely on March 4. Flora was single and 16 years old. It is apparent that Joseph very much liked Flora and spent a fair amount of time with her. Emma, since her rebellious heart was unwilling to accept the principle of plural marriage, would become incredibly jealous if Joseph paid any attention to his plural wives. William Clayton recalled, “President Joseph told me that he had difficulty with Emma yesterday. She rode up to Woodworths’ with him and called while he came to the temple. When he returned, she was demanding the gold watch of Flora [which Joseph had apparently given her as a gift]. He [Joseph] reproved her [Emma] for her evil treatment. On their return home she abused him much and also when he got home. He had to use harsh measures to put a stop to her abuse but finally succeeded.” There was once a circumstance, which certainly arose because of misunderstanding, in which a young man named Orange Wight, after returning from a mission, was looking for a wife and took an interest in Flora. After they were seen together by the Prophet, he politely invited them along for a carriage ride for the whole afternoon. After dropping them off, Flora’s mother informed Orange that Flora was a plural wife of Joseph Smith (Orange was aware that Eliza R. Snow and the Partridge sisters were wives of Joseph Smith, but not Flora). Embarrassed by the misunderstanding, Orange relates, “as a matter of course I at once after giving her [Flora] a mild lecture left her and looked for a companion in other places.” This was sort of a subtle play on Joseph Smith’s part, dropping the couple off with the mother in order to educate the boy about Flora’s relationship with him. Flora’s own mother, Phebe, who was Lucien’s wife, was also sealed to Joseph Smith for eternity after his death. After the death of Joseph Smith, 17-year-old Flora was romanced by a man named Carlos Gove, a hostile non-Mormon. They married and had two or three children. However, Flora did receive her endowment after her second marriage, in 1846. That same day her mother Phebe was sealed to Joseph Smith for eternity, with her original earthly husband, Lucien Woodworth, standing as proxy (Lucien later married other wives). At Winter Quarters Flora confided in Helen Mar Kimball that she felt “condemned” for marrying outside the Church and that she “desired to cling to Joseph hereafter.” She and her husband went west to Utah, but may have separated before 1850. Flora’s date of death is unknown. 

20) Emily Dow Partridge – Emily Dow Partridge was born February 28, 1824, in Painesville, Ohio, and is the sister of Eliza Maria Partridge, another plural wife of Joseph Smith. The Partridge family joined the Church in 1830. Emily’s father, Edward Partridge, became the first bishop in the Church and therefore Presiding Bishop to the Church. Emily contracted measles from an immigrating Mormon family boarding in the Partridge home, and became deaf in one ear as a result. While in Nauvoo, Emily and her sister Eliza both worked in the house of Joseph and Emma Smith as nannies. Emily wrote, “The Prophet Joseph and his wife Emma offered us a home in their family, and they treated us with great kindness.” In the spring of 1842, Joseph began teaching Emily (who was then 18 years old) about the doctrine of plural marriage. Emily recalled, “When I was eighteen years Joseph said to me one day, ‘Emily, if you will not betray me, I will tell you something for your benefit.’ Of course I would keep his secret, but no opportunity offered for some time to say anything to me.” Afterward the Prophet Joseph gave her a letter on the condition that she burned it after reading it. The letter must have contained an outline of the doctrine of plural marriage, as well as a marriage proposal. However, Emily suspected that it was a romantic letter, and with Joseph being a religious leader, her host and employer, and somewhat of a father figure, under that understanding she prayed about it and decided that it would be improper to accept such a letter. Emily goes on, “He asked me if I wished the matter to end. I said I did.” Joseph did not bring up the subject again for several months. During that time, Emily regretted that she did not hear out the contents of Joseph’s letter and the nature of his proposition. Also during this time, the Prophet Joseph tested Emily’s willingness to keep these things in confidence, through the instrumentality of another of his plural wives, Elizabeth Davis Durfee. Elizabeth mentioned to Emily the rumors about plural marriage and asked Emily if she knew anything about it, but Emily recalled, “I kept my own council and said nothing.” (at the time, Emily was unaware that Elizabeth Davis was a plural wife of the Prophet. However, a short time later, Emily divulged the attempt at a plural marriage proposal between her and the Prophet to her older sister, Eliza. This made Eliza very distraught. Emily recalled, “She felt very bad indeed for a short time, but it served to prepare her to receive the principles that were revealed soon after.” Emily herself in time became converted to the principle of plural marriage. Afterward, on her 19th birthday, on February 28, 1843, the Prophet again approached Emily regarding plural marriage. Emily recalled, “He taught me this principle of plural marriage that is called polygamy now, but we called it celestial marriage, and he told me that this principle had been revealed to him but it was not generally known; and he went on and said that the Lord had given me to him, and he wanted to know if I would consent to a marriage, and I consented.” About a week later, Elizabeth Davis Durfee told Emily that Joseph “would like an opportunity to talk with [Emily].” Elizabeth explained to Emily that it was concerning her marriage to the Prophet. Emily recalled, “I was thoroughly prepared for almost anything. I was to meet him in the evening at Mr. [Heber C.] Kimball’s.” Because Vilate Kimball was not then present, the marriage almost did not take place at that time, and Emily herself was still quite hesitant. But it did end up taking place, as Emily recalled, “I cannot tell all Joseph said, but he said the Lord had commanded [him] to enter into plural marriage and had given me to him, and although I had got badly frightened he knew I would yet have him. So he waited till the Lord told him. My mind was now prepared and would receive the principles. I do not think if I had not gone through the ordeal I did that I could ever [have] gone off at night to meet him. But that was the only way [it could] be done then. Well, I was married there and then. Joseph went home his way and I going my way alone. A strange way of getting married, wasn’t it? Brother Kimball married us, the 4th of March 1843.” At the time of her marriage, Emily was 19 years old and single (Joseph was 37). Todd Compton explains, “According to Emily’s later testimony in a law court, there was a sexual dimension to her marriage with Joseph. She testified that she ‘roomed’ with him the night following the marriage and explicitly stated that she had ‘carnal intercourse’ with him on a number of occasions.” A few months after Joseph’s marriage to the Partridge sisters, he was able to convince Emma to allow him to take some additional wives. Emma, because of her temporary acceptance of the principle of plural marriage, presently was able to exercise her right to the Law of Sarah. Amusingly, Emma chose the Partridge sisters, whom Joseph was already married to, unbeknownst to Emma. Emily recalled this awkward circumstance, “To save the family trouble, Brother Joseph thought it best to have another ceremony performed.” And so the sisters were re-sealed to Joseph in the presence of Emma. This circumstance gives insight into why Joseph kept his plural marriages secret from Emma so often. Emily recalled, “From that very hour…Emma was our bitter enemy. We remained in the family several months after this, but things went from bad to worse.” Emma was bitterly jealous of any time Joseph spent with the Partridge sisters. Emma demanded that the sisters divorce her husband, and eventually evicted the Partridge sisters, Emily and Eliza, from the Smith home. The Prophet Joseph, however, helped them find new homes in Nauvoo. After the death of Joseph Smith, Emily accepted marriage to Brigham Young, went west, and had several children by President Young. Emily died on December 9, 1899 at age 76.

21) Eliza Maria Partridge – Eliza Maria Partridge was born April 20, 1820 in Painesville, Ohio, and is the sister of Emily Dow Partridge, another plural wife of Joseph Smith. The Partridge family joined the Church in 1830. Eliza’s father, Edward Partridge, became the first bishop in the Church and therefore Presiding Bishop to the Church. While in Nauvoo, Eliza and her sister Emily both worked in the house of Joseph and Emma Smith as nannies. Eliza’s sister, Emily, divulged to Eliza Joseph Smith’s attempt at a plural marriage proposal between herself (Emily) and the Prophet. This made Eliza very distraught, that her sister had been approached in such a way, and by the Prophet of all people. Emily recalled, “[Eliza] felt very bad indeed for a short time, but it served to prepare her to receive the principles that were revealed soon after.” Eliza married Joseph four days after her sister Emily’s marriage to the Prophet. Almost nothing is known about the marriage proposal, only that Joseph taught the doctrine of plural marriage to her while she was in his house and asked her to “enter into that order with him.” Eliza related, “This was truly a great trial for me but I had the most implicit confidence in him as a Prophet of the Lord and [could] not but believe his words and as a matter of course accept the privilege of being sealed to him as a wife  for time and all eternity. We were sealed in 1843 by Heber C. Kimball in the presence of witnesses.” Orson Hyde was among the witnesses. The secrecy of plural marriage was so keen at this time that neither Eliza nor Emily knew that each other had been married to the Prophet Joseph. Eliza later served as witness to the Prophet Joseph’s marriage to Lucy Walker. After the death of Joseph Smith, Eliza married Amasa M. Lyman, a recent apostle, for “time.” Eliza bore Amasa M. Lyman several children. Anyone who is acquainted with the bizarre case of Amasa M. Lyman will recall that he was deprived of apostleship in 1867 and excommunicated from the Church in 1870 because he began to preach sermons denying the Atonement and Divine Sonship of Jesus Christ. Lyman had become involved in esoteric spiritualism and had deceived himself into believing his false intellectualizations. Eliza left Amasa M. Lyman upon his excommunication (he became the head of a spiritualist organization in Utah). Eliza died on March 2, 1886, at age at age 65.   

22) Almera Woodward Johnson – Almera is the sister of Delcena Johnson (another of Joseph Smith’s wives) and Benjamin F. Johnson. Almera was born in Vermont in 1812 after which her family moved to New York. She was baptized into the Church along with most of her family in the early 1830s. On April 1, 1843, Joseph Smith and some traveling companions stayed at the residence of Benjamin F. Johnson. The morning after, the Prophet Joseph took Benjamin by the arm and said, “Come, brother Bennie, let us have a walk.” They walked along into a wooded area and finally sat together on a log. The Prophet Joseph said, in Benjamin’s words, “that the Lord had revealed to him that plural or patriarchal marriage was according to His law; and that the Lord had not only revealed it to him but had commanded him to obey it.” The Prophet then explained that at the time when the Lord had revealed “the ancient order of plural marriage” to him in Kirtland, one of his first thoughts had been to ask Benjamin’s mother “for some of her daughters.” However, the Prophet obviously did not follow through with that thought at the time. The Prophet then explained that he was once again required by God to abide by the principle of plural marriage and he wanted Benjamin to help him propose marriage to Almera. Benjamin was greatly stunned at this request. Benjamin recorded, “In almost agony of feeling…I looked him straight in the face and said, ‘Brother Joseph, this is something I did not expect and I do not understand it. You know whether it is right – I do not. I want to do just as you tell me, and I will try. But if I ever should know that you do this to dishonor and debauch my sister I will kill you as sure as the Lord lives.’ And while his eye did not move from mine he said with a smile, in a soft tone, ‘But Benjamin, you will never know that. But you will know the principle is true and will greatly rejoice in what it will bring you.’ ‘But how,’ I asked, ‘can I teach my sister what I myself do not understand?’ ‘But you will see and understand,’ he said, ‘and when you open your mouth to talk to your sister light will come to you and your mouth will be full and your tongue loose.’” Sick at heart, Benjamin timidly complied with the Prophet’s request. However, when Benjamin spoke with his sister about the doctrine of plural marriage and the marriage proposal, Joseph Smith’s prophetic assurance came true, “Just as soon as I [Benjamin] found power to open my mouth it was filled for the light of the Lord shone upon my understanding…and so my sister and myself were converted together.” Almera was apparently still nervous about the arrangement, however, until she received assurance from Hyrum Smith shortly before the marriage. Hyrum had also been repulsed by plural marriage initially, but then received a testimony of its truthfulness from God. Hyrum told Almera, “The Lord has revealed the principle of plural marriage to me and I know for myself that it is true. I will have you for a sister, and you shall be blessed.” The sealing was officiated by William Clayton, and was performed April 22, 1843. At the time of her marriage, Almera was single and 30 years old (Joseph Smith was 38). Almera recorded, “After this time I lived with the Prophet Joseph as his wife…I had many conversations with [Louisa] Beaman who was also a wife of Joseph Smith…on the subject of plurality of wives.” For a short time Almera stayed in the Mansion House in Nauvoo, but later returned to the residence of her brother Benjamin. On May 16, Joseph Smith visited Benjamin and Almera, and Benjamin recorded, “The Prophet again came and at my house occupied the same room and bed with my sister that the month previous he had occupied with the daughter of the late Bishop Partridge as his wife.” Later in the year, when the Prophet made another visit to Benjamin’s house, he enquired about marrying Benjamin’s 15 year-old sister, Esther. However, when Benjamin informed that Prophet that she was already engaged to another man, he, according to Todd Compton, “‘reluctantly’ let the matter drop.” After the death of Joseph Smith, in 1845, Almera married Reuben Barton, a seventy during the Kirtland era, “for time” and had five daughters by him. However, the marriage failed by 1860 due to quarrelling and Reuben’s newfound antagonism to the Church. Almera left him and took her children finally to the Salt Lake Valley. All five of her daughters preceded her in death. Almera finally died herself on March 4, 1896, at the age of 83.

23) Lucy Walker – Lucy Walker was born April 30, 1826. She was another of Joseph Smith’s young wives, and was about 15 or 16 years old when proposed to. Lucy’s father joined the Church in 1832, to the outrage of his entire family. In 1834, Lucy studied the Bible in order to prove Mormonism false, but in doing so she only became convinced that it is true, and was baptized. The Walkers had the misfortune of arriving in Caldwell County, Missouri on the very day of the Haun’s Mill Massacre, and had frightening brushes with death as a consequence of mobbers. After that they moved to Nauvoo. Lucy’s brother Lorin became greatly beloved by the Prophet Joseph Smith, and was his “personal attendant” looking after the Prophet’s clothes, horses, etc. until the time of the Prophet’s death. Lucy met Joseph Smith for the first time in 1841, when the Prophet invited Lorin Walker’s family for dinner at his house. In time Lucy became very close to Joseph’s family, who, as she related, “I learned to love as my own brothers, and Julia (an adopted daughter), as my sister.” In January 1842, Lucy’s mother Lydia became ill and died. On her death bed she exhorted her children to “never depart from the truth,” and bearing testimony of Joseph Smith’s Prophetic calling. After the death of their mother, Joseph Smith mercifully “adopted” most of the Walker children, including Lucy, while John Walker, the father, left Nauvoo on a mission. Joseph Smith had prophetically warned John Walker that he would follow his wife in death unless he had “a change of climate.” Lucy recalled, “The Prophet and his wife introduced us as their sons and daughters. Every privilege was accorded us in the home.” It was at this point in time that Joseph Smith proposed marriage to Lucy. Lucy recalled the circumstances: “In the year 1842, President Joseph Smith sought an interview with me, and said, ‘I have a message for you. I have been commanded of God to take another wife, and you are the woman.’ My astonishment knew no bounds. This announcement was indeed a thunderbolt to me.” Lucy continues with her narrative, “He asked me if I believed him to be a Prophet of God. ‘Most assuredly I do,’ I replied. He fully explained to me the principle of plural or celestial marriage. [He] said this principle was again to be restored for the benefit of the human family. [He said] that it would prove an everlasting blessing to my father’s house, and form a chain that could never be broken, worlds without end.” When Lucy showed reluctance, the Prophet instructed her to pray and ask God regarding the matter. But Lucy remained severely conflicted on the matter and even at some points wished for death. The element of sacrifice and obedience as a part of plural marriage comes into play at this point. Lucy wrote, “Why – Why should I be chosen from among thy daughters, Father, I am only a child in years and experience. No mother to council; no father near to tell me what to do, in this trying hour. Oh let this bitter cup pass. And thus I prayed in the agony of my soul.” Sometime later, the Prophet approached Lucy’s brother William for his “consent” to marry Lucy. William said, “if it was her choice…I had no objection.” Once again the Prophet Joseph Smith approached Lucy regarding the matter, saying that the marriage would have to be secret, but when the Saints were “beyond the Rocky Mountains” that he would openly acknowledge the union. He also reinforced the divine commandment aspect, saying, “It is a command of God to you.” And then the Prophet said to her, “I will give you until tomorrow to decide this matter. If you reject this message the gate will be closed forever against you.” But Lucy claimed that she would not agree to such a thing unless God revealed to her that it was right, and that so far God had not done so. Then, “He [Joseph] walked across the room, returned, and stood before me. With the most beautiful expression of countenance, [he] said, ‘God Almighty bless you. You shall have a manifestation of the will of God concerning you, a testimony that you can never deny. I will tell you what it shall be: it shall be that peace and joy that you never knew.” All night Lucy prayed and pondered over the subject until finally, as she relates, “My room became filled with a heavenly influence...My soul was filled with a calm, sweet peace that I never knew.” She had been converted to plural marriage. She descended the stairs of Joseph Smith’s house only to find the Prophet there, who had also been praying. He then commenced to give Lucy a blessing and blessed her “with every blessing my heart could possibly desire.” On May 1, Lucy married the Prophet Joseph Smith at his house with William Clayton officiating and Eliza Partridge as witness. Lucy had just turned 17 and was single. When Lucy’s father, John Walker, returned from his mission, he gave his approval to the union. Lucy later declared, “It as not a love matter, so to speak, in our affairs – at least on my part it was not, but simply the giving up of myself as a sacrifice to establish that grand and glorious principle that God had revealed to the world.” Nothing else is really known about the marriage. Like most of Joseph’s Smith’s plural wives, Lucy became great friends with her fellow sister-wives. After the death of Joseph Smith, Lucy (age 18 now) married Heber C. Kimball (age 43) for “time.” Heber and Lucy had children together, but Lucy understood and eagerly awaited her (and her children’s) reunion with Joseph Smith in the Resurrection. Lucy died on October 1, 1910, at age 84.

24) Sarah Lawrence – Sarah and Maria Lawrence are another sister pair who were both wives of Joseph Smith. Sarah was born near Toronto, Ontario, Canada in 1826. Her parents were converted to the Church through the preaching of Parley P. Pratt. In 1837, when Joseph Smith made a visit to the area, Sarah (age 11) would have met him for the first time. The Lawrence family moved to Nauvoo in 1840 or 1841 and became part of Joseph Smith’s circle of friends. The father of the Lawrence family died and Sarah and Maria were living at the home of Joseph Smith along with the Partridge sisters. Around the time that Emma conceded to Joseph’s marriage to the Partridge sisters, she also authorized a marriage arrangement between him and the Lawrence sisters. At the time of her marriage to Joseph Smith, Sarah was single and age 17. However, Joseph’s marriage to the Lawrence sisters became publicly known when William Law, former second counselor in the First Presidency (but opponent to polygamy) apostatized. William Law attempted to charge Joseph Smith in court for living “in an open state of adultery” with the Lawrence sisters, whom he knew from Canada. Joseph denied charges of adultery, and in order to preserve his life and the lives of those involved, also publicly denied his polygamous relationships. At this point the “Nauvoo Expositor” was published by William Law, exposing plural marriage in a slanderous light. And the rest is history. After the death of Joseph Smith, Sarah married Heber C. Kimball for “time.” After joining the Kimball family, Sarah became good friends with Helen Mar Kimball, Heber’s daughter. However, Sarah was one of the sixteen wives of Heber that left him, and one of his few that requested a formal divorce. Sarah was unhappy with her marriage arrangement to Heber C. Kimball and met a “professed” Mormon man name Joseph Mount, whom she married in 1853. This created a falling out between her and Helen Mar, and when Sarah later moved to California (which at the time was seen as almost a quasi-apostasy), this did not improve her image among the Mormon community. Sarah died of uterine cancer on November 28, 1872, at age 46.   

25) Maria Lawrence – Sarah and Maria Lawrence are another sister pair who were both wives of Joseph Smith. Maria was born near Toronto, Ontario, Canada in 1823. Her parents were converted to the Church through the preaching of Parley P. Pratt. In 1837, when Joseph Smith made a visit to the area, Maria (age 13) would have met him for the first time. The Lawrence family moved to Nauvoo in 1840 or 1841 and became part of Joseph Smith’s circle of friends. The father of the Lawrence family died and Maria and Sarah were living at the home of Joseph Smith along with the Partridge sisters. Around the time that Emma conceded to Joseph’s marriage to the Partridge sisters, she also authorized a marriage arrangement between him and the Lawrence sisters. At the time of her marriage to Joseph Smith, Maria was single and age 19. However, Joseph’s marriage to the Lawrence sisters became publicly known when William Law, former second counselor in the First Presidency (but opponent to polygamy) apostatized. William Law attempted to charge Joseph Smith in court for living “in an open state of adultery” with the Lawrence sisters, whom he knew from Canada. Joseph denied charges of adultery, and in order to preserve his life and the lives of those involved, also publicly denied his polygamous relationships. At this point the “Nauvoo Expositor” was published by William Law, exposing plural marriage in a slanderous light. The rest, of course, is history. After the death of Joseph Smith, Maria seemed to have married Brigham Young, or was going to, however, if she did, the marriage ended with her separating within a year and a half. According to Benjamin F. Johnson, Maria married Almon Babbitt at some point. However, Maria died in Nauvoo in 1847. 

26) Helen Mar Kimball – Helen Mar Kimball was born August 22, 1828, as the daughter of Heber C. Kimball, member of the original Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, a diehard Joseph Smith loyalist, and future first counselor in Brigham Young’s First Presidency. Helen is famous for being the youngest wife of Joseph Smith, having married him at the age of 14. This marriage is also well-known for being dynastic in nature, its main purpose being the linking of the Kimball family with the Prophet Joseph Smith for eternity. It is also worthy of note that the marriage arrangement was initiated by Heber C. Kimball, Helen’s father, not Joseph Smith, since Heber desired that eternal link for his family. Helen, the only surviving daughter in the Kimball family, was “the apple of her father’s eye,” and was “slightly pampered” according to Todd Compton. When Joseph Smith began teaching the doctrine of plural marriage, it was a severe test to both Heber and Vilate Kimball his wife, who were very devoted to each other. It was around this time that the Prophet Joseph tested Heber’s devotion with an Abrahamic sacrifice – requiring Heber to give his wife Vilate to Joseph as his wife (this test was Abrahamic because the sacrifice was never really required. It was merely a test of faith). After this, however, Joseph instructed Heber to practice plural marriage for himself, which was still a trying experience for the Kimballs. Vilate, though purposely unaware of this arrangement, in time learned of the principle of plural marriage and Heber’s involvement in it through a miraculous vision, and she was accepting. Not long after this, Helen Mar Kimball would also become involved in plural marriage. She recounts the events thus: “Without any preliminaries [my father] asked me if I would believe him if he told me that it was right for married men to take other wives.” Helen responded with anger and disgust at the idea, and Heber her father in turn began to teach her the doctrine of plural marriage as it was taught to him. He then explained to Helen that a friend of hers, Sarah Ann Whitney, was a plural wife of the Prophet. Helen recalled, “This astonished me beyond measure.” It seems that Heber had already promised Helen to the Prophet Joseph even before approaching her with the arrangement. In retrospect, Helen wrote of the experience, “Having a great desire to be connected to the Prophet Joseph, he offered me to him; this I afterwards learned from the Prophet’s own mouth.” Heber then asked Helen if she would be the wife of Joseph Smith. Helen reflected on the shocking information for a whole day, and pondered on the fact that her beloved father would not lead her into impure acts. The next day, Joseph Smith came to the Kimball home and he also explained plural marriage to young Helen. Joseph then promised Helen, “If you will take this step, it will ensure your eternal salvation and exaltation and that of your father’s household and all your kindred.” Thus Helen relented and accepted the proposal. Vilate Kimball was not happy about the arrangement at all, but said, “If Helen is willing I have nothing more to say.” Helen married Joseph Smith in May 1843. Helen was single and a few months shy of her 15th birthday. Of course, this marriage situation was not without trial for Helen. She was young and not interested in being isolated from friends or being limited in her freedom. It is apparent that Helen initially understood her marriage to the Prophet to be “for eternity alone,” thus making her free to marry another for “time,” but this was not the intent of the arrangement (Joseph Smith did not make such “for eternity only” marriage arrangements). Helen’s eventual realization of this fact was a great trial for her, and she “had rebellious moments,” according to Todd Compton. When Joseph Smith died, Helen was still just 15 years old. This allowed her to fall back into her regular social life. Helen fell in love with 22 year-old Horace Whitney and they were married for “time” on February 3, 1846. Horace was also sealed to a deceased woman around this time so that he would have an eternal companion. In 1855, Helen Mar gave birth to Orson F. Whitney, the future historian and beloved apostle (see Church Almanac). This means that Elder Orson F. Whitney, though the biological son of Horace Whitney, is sealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith eternally as his son. Helen Mar Kimball, though severely tried in her early experience with plural marriage, remained a staunch defender of it in her old age, publishing a 52 page booklet entitled “Plural Marriage As Taught By the Prophet Joseph” in 1882, and a 72 page booklet entitled “Why We Practice Plural Marriage” in 1884. Helen died on November 15, 1896.  

27) Hannah Ells – Hannah Ells was born in 1813 in England. At some point she immigrated to America and worked as a seamstress. She converted to the Church along with her brother Josiah around 1838 in New Jersey (Orson Pratt and a Benjamin Winchester were missionaries in the area). Joseph Smith visited the New Jersey branch in 1840 and may have met Hannah then. Hannah and her brother gathered in Nauvoo later that year. There Hannah continued her occupation as a seamstress. Hannah married Joseph Smith sometime between January and the summer of 1843. At the time Hannah was about age 30 and single. Not much is known about Hannah or her marriage to the Prophet. John Benbow, who lived in the same house as Hannah, later confirmed that “President Smith frequently visited his wife Hannah” at his house. At one point Hannah was made Secretary in the Nauvoo Relief Society. Hannah’s brother Josiah was present when Joseph Smith decided to turn himself over to the authorities just prior to his death. Hannah was apparently a close family friend of Wilford Woodruff’s. After the death of Joseph Smith, Hannah’s brother Josiah rejected the authority of the Twelve Apostles and was partial to Sidney Rigdon’s leadership claims. He became an apostle in Sidney Rigdon’s church, then affiliated with the Strangites, then joined the RLDS church and became an apostle in that church. Hannah did not follow in Josiah’s example, however, and remained with the true Church. Hannah died sometime in 1845 in Nauvoo.    

28) Elvira Annie Cowles – Elvira Annie Cowles was born on November 23, 1813 in New York State. She was the last of Joseph Smith’s polyandrous wives of which we have confident record. The Cowles family converted to the Church very soon after its founding in 1830, but Elvira herself was not baptized until 1835. In Nauvoo, Elvira’s father Austin Cowles was elected to Nauvoo city council and became first counselor in the Nauvoo stake presidency (then a prestigious position). Elvira lived in Joseph Smith’s house for a stretch of time beginning in the spring of 1840 “where she remained a happy inmate,” as her obituary recalled. Elvira became treasurer to the Relief Society in Nauvoo. In 1842 she moved out of Joseph Smith’s home when she married Jonathan Holmes, a widower who was one of Joseph Smith’s bodyguards who had also lived in Joseph Smith’s home. Joseph Smith performed the wedding ceremony. On June 1, 1843, Elvira was sealed to Joseph Smith in Heber C. Kimball’s home, with Heber officiating. Elvira was 29 years old, and of course, already married, thus making this another polyandrous marriage of the Prophet’s. Evidence seems to suggest that Jonathan knew of the marriage between Joseph and Elvira, either before or after, and permitted it. Jonathan remained a true friend to Joseph Smith, and served as a pallbearer at his funeral. And later, Jonathan stood as proxy while Elvira was re-sealed to Joseph Smith after his death (Jonathan was sealed to his deceased wife for eternity that day as well). Interestingly, when the revelation on plural/celestial marriage (D&C 132) was read aloud by Hyrum Smith to the Nauvoo high council and stake presidency, Austin Cowles, Elvira’s father, was among the dissenters who opposed it. Austin Cowles afterward resigned from the stake presidency and later helped write the fateful issue of the “Nauvoo Expositor” and therefore contributing to the death of Joseph Smith. Interestingly, Jonathan Holmes, his son-in-law, was among those who destroyed the Nauvoo Expositor printing press by order of the city council. Jonathan and Elvira went west with the Saints. On Elvira’s deathbed, Jonathan asked her’, “what reports [of him] she would give to the Prophet Joseph. She replied, ‘Only the best report. You have always been a kind and devoted husband and father.’” This circumstance is interesting, in that it shows that humble Jonathan was concerned about having the approval of the Prophet Joseph Smith, his wife’s true eternal companion. Elvira died of tuberculosis on March 10, 1871, at the age of 57.    

29) Rhoda Richards – Rhoda Richards was born on August 8, 1784 in Massachusetts. She was of course one of Joseph Smith’s older wives, and also the sister of dedicated apostle Willard Richards who served as a recorder of Joseph’s sermons and was with Joseph Smith at the martyrdom. According to Todd Compton, “their [Rhoda and Joseph’s] marriage is a pure example of dynastic matrimony,” made for the express purpose of linking Willard Richards to Joseph Smith eternally. Compton also explains, “As was often the case with dynastic marriages, the participants respected each other, but there was no romantic involvement.” While she was younger, Rhoda fell in love with a man named Ebenezer Damon. A female family member recorded, “Ebenezer Damon was a man of sterling worth and integrity whom Aunt Rhoda loved as such a woman loves but once in a lifetime.” They were engaged to be married but tragically Ebenezer was struck with sudden sickness and died in 1813, shortly before the marriage was to take place. Ironically, Rhoda would be in poor health her whole life, but live to an old age. Rhoda joined the Church in 1835 or 1836 when Brigham Young’s brother, Joseph Young (her cousin), visited and preached a sermon to her. In 1843, Rhoda was in Nauvoo and moved into the “prophet’s store.” Willard Richards had already entered into plural marriage by this time. Either Joseph Smith or Willard Richards suggested to the other that their two families should be linked eternally, and Rhoda accepted the marriage proposal that would unite them. Rhoda married Joseph Smith on June 12, 1843, with Willard Richards officiated in the sealing. Rhoda was single and 58 years old at the time of the marriage. After the marriage, Rhoda lived with her brothers’ families. After the death of Joseph Smith, Rhoda married Brigham Young, her cousin, and though they were married they seemed to continue in the unromantic but friendly relationship of cousins. Later in her life, in 1871, Rhoda was proxy to sealings which sealed deceased Richards women to Joseph Smith and Brigham Young her current husband. On a melancholy note, all her life Rhoda was known to longingly mourn the death of her first love, Ebenezer Damon. Rhoda died on January 17, 1879, at the age of 94.  

30) Desdemona Fullmer – Desdemona Fullmer was born on October 6, 1809 in Pennsylvania and was the daughter of David Fullmer, a Nauvoo high counselor. At the young age of 13, Desdemona was praying earnestly regarding God and religion. She read the Bible dutifully and compared its teachings to the existing Creeds, and prayed to know which Church to join. One day while doing this she fell unconscious to the ground for several hours. She recalled, “There was a voice [which] said to me, ‘Stop yet a little longer. There is something better for you yet.’…So I stopped till I heard the Latter-day Saints preach the gospel. I joined them soon after.” Visions such as this would continue throughout her life.  Her family obtained a copy of the Book of Mormon in 1835 and entertained Mormon missionaries. The family joined the Church in 1836 and relocated to Kirtland. During the time when many were turning against the Prophet, Oliver Cowdery said to Desdemona, “Are you such a fool as still to go to hear Joseph the fallen prophet?” Desdemona replied, “The Lord convinced me that he was a true prophet, and He [God] has not told me that he has fallen yet.” In the spring of 1842, Desdemona was living in Joseph Smith’s home along with Elvira Cowles and the Partridge sisters. However, she later moved to William Clayton’s home. Desdemona married Joseph Smith in July of 1843, as Brigham Young officiated. Desdemona recalled, “In the rise of polygamy I was warned in a dream Amy Smith [she probably meant ‘Emma Smith’] was going to poison me. I told my dream to Brother Joseph. He told me it was true, she would do it if she could.” If accurate, this account gives insight into Emma’s dangerous jealousy when she discovered Joseph’s plural marriages. In time, tensions flared up between Desdemona and the William Clayton family with whom she was living and Desdemona moved out. After the death of Joseph Smith, Desdemona married Ezra T. Benson, who would later become an apostle, and went west. However, Desdemona later divorced Ezra in 1852 and married Harrison Parker McLane in 1853. However, in time Harrison began to apostatize from the Church and he and Desdemona separated sometime between 1860 and 1863. Desdemona said of the period afterward, “The Spirit of the Lord directed me, and angels visited me, and my faith increased in this Church. I [have] belonged 30 years in this Church and the longer I live in it the better I like it.” In 1871, her and Joseph F. Smith stood proxy for a sealing of Hyrum Smith to Charlotte Fullmer, her deceased younger sister. Desdemona died on February 9, 1886, at age 76.

31) Olive G. Frost – Olive Grey Frost was born on July 24, 1816 in Maine. In 1836 Brigham Young and other of the Twelve Apostles preached in Maine while on a mission, which converted members of Olive’s family, who were baptized in 1836 by no less than apostle David W. Patten. Olive did not yet convert until later, however. Olive’s sister, Mary Ann, married Parley P. Pratt, an apostle and then a widower, in 1837. Olive converted in Illinois in 1839 and later accompanied her sister and Elder Pratt on his mission to England. When they all returned to Nauvoo, Olive mingled with the elite women in the Mormon community, many of whom were plural wives of Joseph Smith or otherwise participants in polygamy. Todd Compton speculates, “Perhaps Patty Sessions or Eliza Snow educated [Olive] in the principles of this new order of marriage.” At any rate, Olive became a plural wife of the Prophet only months after coming to Nauvoo. When Olive married Joseph Smith, she was 27 or 28 years old and single. Olive’s sister Mary Ann recalled, “She [Olive] seemed to realize and appreciate the magnitude of the great and important mission allotted to woman in the perfect plan of this Gospel dispensation, and she desired to do her part in the good work. She freely accorded to man the title of king, and joyfully accepted the place of queen by his side. It was at this time [summer 1843] that the principle of plurality of wives was taught to her. She never opposed it, and, as in the case of baptism, soon accepted it to be her creed, in practice as well as theory. She was married for time and all eternity to Joseph Smith some time previous to his death and martyrdom.” Interestingly, Olive’s sister Mary Ann, who was married to Parley P. Pratt, was sealed to Joseph Smith with Parley standing as proxy in 1846. Olive apparently loved Joseph Smith deeply, for when he died, an observer recorded, “When the dead bodies [of Joseph and Hyrum] arrived at Nauvoo, the spiritual [i.e. plural] wives of the late prophet, before unknown with certainty, now disclosed by cries, and a general uproar, their secret acceptance of the new doctrine. One of them, Olive Frost, went entirely mad; but his own wife Emma, appeared remarkably resigned.” After the death of Joseph Smith, Olive married Brigham Young, with the ceremony probably performed by Amasa M. Lyman. However, on October 6, 1845, Olive died of malaria. Her sister Mary Ann wrote, “She died as she had lived, in full faith of the Gospel of Christ, and awaits the glorious resurrection day.”

32) Melissa Lott – Melissa Lott was born on January 9, 1824 in Pennsylvania. She was the daughter of Cornelius Lott, captain of Joseph Smith’s bodyguards and the manager of Joseph Smith’s farm. Melissa was another of Joseph’s relatively young wives, but again the marriage is seen as largely for dynastic purposes between Joseph Smith and Cornelius Lott. The Lott family was converted in 1833 and afterward dwelt with or near the body of the Saints. Todd Compton notes that Cornelius Lott had “clearly become one of [Joseph Smith’s] favorites.” When Melissa was 18 years old, she lived in Joseph Smith’s home and helped tend his children. Melissa was apparently beautiful, and the Prophet Joseph Smith eventually proposed marriage to her, and may have done so through her father as an intermediary. Apparently Eliza R. Snow, Elvira Holmes, Elizabeth Whitney, and Elizabeth Durfee, all plural wives of Joseph Smith, rode to the Lott farm and introduced the doctrine of plural marriage to Melissa in preparation for Joseph Smith’s marriage proposal. Melissa accepted the marriage proposal, and married the Prophet Joseph Smith for time and eternity on September 20, 1843, with Hyrum Smith officiating and Melissa’s parents as witnesses. At the time of her marriage, Melissa was single and age 19. The wedding vow according to Melissa’s later recollection was: “You both mutually agree to be each other’s companion, husband, and wife, observing the legal rights belonging to this condition, that is, keeping yourselves wholly for each other, and from all others during your lives.” (Of course, for the Prophet, the “all others” would not include his other wives). The historical evidence makes it plain that there was a sexual dimension to this marriage. After the death of Joseph Smith, Melissa was re-sealed to Joseph Smith, with John Milton Bernhisel, a friend of Joseph Smith, standing as proxy (and therefore her husband for “time.”). They went west with the Saints. However, this marriage did not last and Melissa married Ira Jones Willes, who marched with the Mormon Battalion. At one point Joseph Smith III, the son of Joseph and Emma Smith and leader of the Reorganized church, visited Utah to prove that his father was not involved in plural marriage (Joseph Smith III, influenced by his mother, renounced plural marriage doctrine and believed that his father had nothing to do with it). Joseph Smith III of course remembered Melissa from Nauvoo, who would take him back and forth to school. In the interview, Joseph Smith III asked Melissa, “Were you married to my father?” Melissa answered, “Yes.” “When?” asked Joseph. Melissa showed him the Lott family Bible where the date of her marriage to Joseph Smith his father was recorded. Joseph Smith III then asked, “Were you his wife in very deed [meaning was there sexual relations involved]?” Melissa answered frankly, “Yes.” Probably flustered, Joseph Smith III then asked, “Why was there no increase [children], say in your case?” Melissa’s answer was, “Through no fault of either of us, lack of proper conditions on my part probably, or it might be in the wisdom of the Almighty that we should have none. The Prophet was martyred nine months after our marriage.” Joseph Smith III then asked Melissa, “Did you know of any brother or sister of mine by my father’s plural wives?” Melissa answered, “I did not know of any.” Then Joseph Smith III resolutely told Melissa, “My mother [Emma Smith], in the presence of witnesses, denied that my father had any wives other than her.” Melissa answered Joseph Smith III that if he would have inquired honestly of his mother in private that she believes Emma would have told him the truth. Melissa died on July 13, 1898, at age 74. 

33) Nancy M. Winchester – Nancy Maria Winchester was born on August 10, 1828 in Pennsylvania. She was another of Joseph Smith’s youngest wives, being about the same age as Helen Mar Kimball at the time of her marriage to the Prophet. In 1833, the Winchester family was converted to the Church by the preaching of John F. Boynton, future short-lived apostle turned apostate, and Evan M. Greene. Nancy’s father Stephen was later called into the first Quorum of the Seventy. The Winchesters became close family friends to the Heber C. Kimball family. Almost nothing is known about Nancy’s marriage to the Prophet, but it probably occurred sometime in 1843, when Nancy would have been either 14 or 15 years old (and single). After the death of Joseph Smith, Nancy married Heber C. Kimball. Evidence indicates that she never cohabited with Heber, and she certainly never had any children by him. By the year 1865, Nancy separated from Heber and she married Amos George Arnold, who was a contemporary in age. Oddly, Heber C. Kimball himself arranged the marriage. Nancy died on March 17, 1876 at the age of 47.

34) Fanny Young – Fanny Young was the older sister of Brigham Young, being born November 8, 1787. Because of their mother’s ill health, Fanny virtually raised Brigham, and was also later the one to first give him a copy of the Book of Mormon as a result of Samuel Smith’s missionary efforts. Fanny married Robert Carr in 1806, but this unhappy marriage dissolved by 1815. The Young and Kimball families were together when they both saw a vision in the sky the night that Joseph Smith received the Gold Plates on September 22, 1827. When Fanny first encountered the Book of Mormon in 1830, “She examined it and reported the book to be a revelation.” However, she, Brigham, and others of the Young family were not baptized until 1832.  Prior to this, in February 1832, Fanny married Roswell Murray (age 62), who was Vilate Kimball’s father. Fanny was 44 years old at the time. However, Roswell died in 1839, leaving Fanny a widow at the time of her sealing to Joseph Smith. On November 2, 1843, Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and Fanny Young were having a discussion about exaltation and celestial marriage. Brigham Young tells us that Fanny said, “Now, don’t talk to me; when I get into the celestial kingdom, if I ever do get there, I shall request the privilege of being a ministering angel; that is the labor that I wish to perform. I don’t want any companion in that world; and if the Lord will make me a ministering angel, it is all I want.” Joseph Smith said to Fanny, “Sister, you talk very foolishly. You do not know what you will want.” Then, turning to Brigham Young, Joseph Smith said, “Here, Brother Brigham, you seal this lady to me.” It seems that Fanny changed her mind immediately, and married Joseph Smith then and there. Brigham performed the ceremony, and some other women, Brigham’s first wife being among them, stood as witnesses. At the time of the marriage, Fanny was just six days shy of her 56th birthday. As Todd Compton states, “The union was clearly dynastic, linking Brigham and Joseph, and, in Smith’s view, would have increased Fanny’s chances for complete salvation.” After the death of Joseph Smith, Fanny did not receive the customary proxy sealing to the Prophet, preferring to remain single at that point (that is, single on earth, but eternally sealed to Joseph). Fanny died on June 11, 1859, at age 71.

 

Conclusion

 

         Plural marriage is a very interesting and important part of Latter-day Saint history, and it is beneficial to discuss it and come to a greater understanding of the principle. The principle of plural marriage was revealed by revelation from God and practiced legitimately throughout ancient times on this revelatory basis, as is evidenced from the Bible. It had finally been revealed again in the days of Joseph Smith as a part of the restoration of all things. It has been shown by scripture that plural marriage is not sinful, but when authorized and done by the commandment of the Lord, is a legitimate family practice. Though we do not have to (and at this present time cannot) enter into its practice, plural marriage must be accepted by us as a true principle – this is a matter upon which our very salvation rests. Latter-day Saints should therefore seek to become comfortable with the idea of plural marriage as a part of the Gospel, as well as the nature of its practice. As we come to understand the nature and purposes of plural marriage, as well as familiarize ourselves with its practice as initiated by Joseph Smith the Prophet, we can come to a better understanding of the eternities, the plan of salvation, and the Gospel as a whole. 

 

 

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