Mormon Essay On Polygamy

Plural Marriage in Kirtland & Nauvoo - Response to


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

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

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

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

Significant facts presented

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Errors & misleading statements

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

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

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

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


2) 2nd paragraph excerpt:

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

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


3) 3rd paragraph excerpt:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


4) 3rd paragraph excerpt:

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

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

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


5) 4th paragraph excerpt:

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

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

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

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


6) 4th paragraph excerpt:

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

In 1834, Phelps is said to have asked Joseph Smith

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

Joseph replied instantly

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Brian Hales notes that

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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

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


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

Brian Hales' website Joseph Smith's Polygamy

Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness.

Richard Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, p. 324

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

History of the Church, Vol 6, p 411.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

The story of Helen Kimball

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

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

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

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

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

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


Essay states:

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

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



Essay states:

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Adapted from Rollo Tomasi's response to this essay


Essay states:

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

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


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

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




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

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

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

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


Essay states:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • John Taylor and Heber C. Kimball went through Hell before they finally acquiesced and turned over their legal wives, Leonora and Vilate, respectively, to Joseph (only for him to turn them down, saying his demand for their wives had been only a "test"). (Richard S. Van Wagoner, "Mormon Polyandry in Nauvoo,"Dialogue, vol. 18, p. 75 (Fall 1985)).
  • Joseph's unsuccessful advances toward Sarah Pratt, legal wife of Orson Pratt (who was away on a mission at the time), which nearly led to Orson committing suicide. (Gary James Bergera, Conflict in the Quorum, p. 35 (Signature Books 2002)).
  • Joseph's making inappropriate advances toward Jane Law, legal wife of William Law, which played a role in William's later disaffection with the LDS Church and publication of the Nauvoo Expositor. (Grant H. Palmer, "Why William and Jane Law Left the LDS Church in 1844," John Whitmer Historical Association Journal, vol. 32, no. 2, pp. 5-6 (Fall/Winter 2012)).
  • When Joseph asked the already-married Sarah M. Kimball to be his polyandrous wife, she turned him down flat, telling him to "teach it to someone else." Some believe her legal husband, Hiram Kimball, learned of the proposal and became very angry toward Joseph, which may explain why, during a Nauvoo City Council meeting on May 19, 1842, Joseph wrote and then "threw across the room" a revelation to Hiram that declared, "Hiram Kimball has been insinuating evil, and formulating evil opinions" against Joseph, and that if he did not desist, Hiram "shall be accursed." (History of the Church, vol. 5, chap. 1, p. 12 (May 19, 1842)).


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

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


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

Click on the links below to read the entire essay on

  • Plural Marriage (Polygamy) in Kirtland and Nauvoo

    When God commands a difficult task, He sometimes sends additional messengers to encourage His people to obey. Consistent with this pattern, Joseph told associates that an angel appeared to him three times between 1834 and 1842 and commanded him to proceed with plural marriage when he hesitated to move forward. During the third and final appearance, the angel came with a drawn sword, threatening Joseph with destruction unless he went forward and obeyed the commandment fully.

    Published on October 22, 2014 | Read on
    Available Translations: Español | Português | Deutsch | Italiano | Français | 中国

  • First Vision Accounts

    Joseph’s First Vision accounts describe the heavenly beings with greater detail over time. The 1832 account says, “The Lord opened the heavens upon me and I saw the Lord.” His 1838 account states, “I saw two Personages,” one of whom introduced the other as “My Beloved Son."

    Published on November 20, 2013 | Read on
    Available Translations: Español | Português | Deutsch | Italiano | Français | 中国

  • Book of Mormon Translation

    Joseph placed either the interpreters or the seer stone in a hat, pressed his face into the hat to block out extraneous light, and read aloud the English words that appeared on the instrument. The process as described brings to mind a passage from the Book of Mormon that speaks of God preparing “a stone, which shall shine forth in darkness unto light.”

    Published on December 30, 2013 | Read on
    Available Translations: Español | Português | Deutsch | Italiano | Français | 中国

  • Book of Mormon and DNA Studies

    Although the primary purpose of the Book of Mormon is more spiritual than historical, some people have wondered whether the migrations it describes are compatible with scientific studies of ancient America. The discussion has centered on the field of population genetics and developments in DNA science.

    Published on January 31, 2014 | Read on
    Available Translations: Español | Português | Deutsch | Italiano | Français | 中国

  • Race and the Priesthood

    Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.

    Published on December 6, 2013 | Read on
    Available Translations: Español | Português | Deutsch | Italiano | Français | 中国

  • Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham

    Joseph’s translation was not a literal rendering of the papyri as a conventional translation would be. Rather, the physical artifacts provided an occasion for meditation, reflection, and revelation. They catalyzed a process whereby God gave to Joseph Smith a revelation about the life of Abraham, even if that revelation did not directly correlate to the characters on the papyri.

    Published on July 8, 2014 | Read on
    Available Translations: Español | Português | Deutsch | Italiano | Français | 中国

  • Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah

    Accounts left by men and women who practiced plural marriage attest to the challenges and difficulties they experienced, such as financial difficulty, interpersonal strife, and some wives’ longing for the sustained companionship of their husbands. But accounts also record the love and joy many found within their families.

    Published on December 16, 2013 | Read on
    Available Translations: Español | Português | Deutsch | Italiano | Français | 中国

  • Are Mormons Christian?

    Latter-day Saints believe the melding of early Christian theology with Greek philosophy was a grave error. Chief among the doctrines lost in this process was the nature of the Godhead. The true nature of God the Father, His Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost was restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith.

    Published on November 20, 2013 | Read on
    Available Translations: Español | Português | Deutsch | Italiano | Français | 中国

  • Becoming Like God

    God “was once as one of us” and “all the spirits that God ever sent into the world” were likewise “susceptible of enlargement.” Joseph Smith preached that long before the world was formed, God found “himself in the midst” of these beings and “saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance like himself” and be “exalted” with Him.

    Published on February 24, 2014 | Read on
    Available Translations: Español | Português | Deutsch | Italiano | Français | 中国

  • Peace and Violence among 19th-Century Latter-day Saints

    [The Latter-day Saints] were persecuted, often violently, for their beliefs. And, tragically, at some points in the 19th century, most notably in the Mountain Meadows Massacre, some Church members participated in deplorable violence against people they perceived to be their enemies.

    Published on May 13, 2014 | Read on
    Available Translations: Español | Português | Deutsch | Italiano | Français | 中国

  • The Manifesto and the End of Plural Marriage (Polygamy)

    The end of plural marriage required great faith and sometimes complicated, painful—and intensely personal—decisions on the part of individual members and Church leaders. Like the beginning of plural marriage in the Church, the end of the practice was a process rather than a single event.

    Published on October 22, 2014 | Read on
    Available Translations: Español | Português | Deutsch | Italiano | Français | 中国

  • Joseph Smith’s Teachings about Priesthood, Temple, and Women

    During the 19th century, women frequently blessed the sick by the prayer of faith, and many women received priesthood blessings promising that they would have the gift of healing. “I have seen many demonstrations of the power and blessing of God through the administration of the sisters,” testified Elizabeth Ann Smith Whitney, who was, by her own account, blessed by Joseph Smith to exercise this gift. In reference to these healing blessings, Relief Society general president Eliza R. Snow explained in 1883, “Women can administer in the name of JESUS, but not by virtue of the Priesthood.”

    Published on October 23, 2015 | Read on

  • Mother in Heaven

    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that all human beings, male and female, are beloved spirit children of heavenly parents, a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother. This understanding is rooted in scriptural and prophetic teachings about the nature of God, our relationship to Deity, and the godly potential of men and women. The doctrine of a Heavenly Mother is a cherished and distinctive belief among Latter-day Saints.

    Published on October 23, 2015 | Read on


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