Criticism of Mormonism/Books/Mormonism 101/Chapter 17

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Response to claims made in "Chapter 17: Joseph Smith"



A FAIR Analysis of: Mormonism 101, a work by author: Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson

Response to claims made in Mormonism 101, "Chapter 17: Joseph Smith"


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Response to claim: 251 - "We have noticed a more subdued reference to Mormonism's founder by tour guides and various displays. In the public area, emphasis on Smith seems to be diminishing"

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

Having made regular visits to Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah, we have noticed a more subdued reference to Mormonism's founder by tour guides and various displays. In the public area, emphasis on Smith seems to be diminishing.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim is false

This claim is nonsense.


Question: Has the Church deemphasized references to Joseph Smith in recent years?

This is false--Joseph's role as the first prophet of the restoration continues to be a point of emphasis

This is false--Joseph's role as the first prophet of the restoration continues to be a point of emphasis. Joseph is, of course, out-ranked in important by God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost.

Several critics of the Church have come up with a surprising claim that the Church is publicly de-emphasizing Joseph Smith. This is a rather amazing statement to make. Surely anyone who visits Temple Square can test this statement and see that it is completely false. The authors obviously took their tour of Temple Square with Steven and Charles Crane whose similar claim, in the anti-Mormon work "Ashamed of Joseph," is soundly proven false in FARMS reviewer LeIsle Jacobson's onsite test.14 Jacobson's visit, as recounted in the endnote, found interactive and readily available video displays about Joseph and guides who easily spoke about him on the "basic beliefs" tour.

If there were still any doubt as to LDS public references to Joseph Smith, consider for example, that immediately adjacent to Temple Square is found a massive structure that was formerly the Hotel Utah. It was renovated a number of years ago to what today is known as the Joseph Smith Memorial Building and has a very large nine-foot marble statue of the prophet in the lobby; this cannot be missed. This is the very building where the missionaries on Temple Square send visitors to view current Church movies.

Another example comes in the form of an official Church letter of clarification issued to religion writers and editors regarding a Newsweek report on the Latter-day Saint faith. In an excerpt from the September 7, 2001 letter, the Church wrote:

Most importantly, our Church spokesmen emphasize our position that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a Restoration of the ancient, biblical Church of Jesus Christ. The conviction among our Church members that this Restoration took place through the Prophet Joseph Smith in the early 1800s is so central to our thinking that no understanding of the Church is complete without it. A moment spent checking the Church's media Web site http://www.lds.org/media will affirm that this message of a distinctive, restored Church, is a consistent one.15

In this media library is found a significant article on Joseph Smith. In that article, "From Farm Boy to Prophet," it clearly states:

Latter-day Saints revere Joseph Smith as a prophet in the tradition of biblical prophets like Moses and Isaiah. Church members believe that his doctrinal teachings and instructions concerning the Church's organization resulted from divine revelation, not his own learning.

While critics lead the reader to believe otherwise, the Church is clear and direct in telling the esteem to which Joseph is held.


Response to claim: 252 - The authors claim that they "almost feel sympathetic toward the Mormon apologist who has to defend Smith's bad social behavior"

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

The authors condescendingly claim that they,

...almost feel sympathetic toward the Mormon apologist who has to defend Smith's bad social behavior...

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim is false

Regardless of a token acknowledgment to the contrary, the authors leave the reader with the impression that not one person ever had anything good or positive to say about Joseph Smith. It is important to consider a few recorded opinions of Joseph in his day from those who knew and understood him, had the opportunity to interact with him, and ultimately finds itself in harmony with what he actually taught.


Response to claim: 253 - "Should people accept Smith as a prophet of God when his behavior was sometimes less than what we would expect from political leaders?"

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

The authors claim,

...should people accept Smith as a prophet of God when his behavior was sometimes less than what we would expect from political leaders? Should character be ignored when it comes to men who claim to be prophets of God?

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The spin: This is pure propaganda.
  1. REDIRECTJoseph Smith's trustworthiness#Was Joseph Smith, Jr. known as a "disreputable person?"

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  1. REDIRECTJoseph Smith's trustworthiness

Response to claim: 253 - The authors quote Richard Van Wagoner to describe Joseph's "lust for manly achievement" and his alleged "inclination toward extra-marital romantic liaisons"

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

The authors quote Richard Van Wagoner to describe Joseph's "lust for manly achievement" and his alleged "inclination toward extra-marital romantic liaisons."

Author's sources:
  1. Richard Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess, 390-291, 293.
  • Todd Comption, "A Trajectory of Plurality: An Overview of Joseph Smith's Thirty-three Plural Wives," Dialogue 29, no. 2 (Summer 1996), 22.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The spin: In the tasteless pursuit of tabloid details, the authors have merely excerpted sensational passages from the works of Richard Van Wagoner and Todd Compton in an effort to deconstruct Joseph.

Richard Van Wagoner, whose writings the authors make much use of, wrote what certainly applies to the authors' approach to Joseph's marital matters:

Contrary to popular nineteenth-century notions about polygamy, the Mormon harem, dominated by lascivious males with hyperactive libidos, did not exist. The image of unlimited lust was largely the creation of Gentile travelers to Salt Lake City more interested in titillating audiences back home than in accurately portraying plural marriage.[1]

The authors portray Joseph's plural marriages as lustful passion. This, however, is contrary to what polygamy was about.[2]

Response to claim: 253-255 - The authors use the terms "secret marriages" "secret plural wives" "secretly married" "amorous advances" "errant yearnings" "extra-marital romantic liaisons" "still teenagers" "affairs" "sexual relations" to describe Joseph's marital arrangements

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

The authors use the terms "secret marriages" "secret plural wives" "secretly married" "amorous advances" "errant yearnings" "extra-marital romantic liaisons" "still teenagers" "affairs" "sexual relations" to describe Joseph's marital arrangements.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The spin: The authors' emotionally laced words of suggested deception are tactically employed to control their readers' perceptions of Joseph's marital engagements. In this case, the authors superficially gloss over Joseph's plural marriages of which Emma had limited knowledge. The authors repeatedly indicate on the one hand that Joseph's plural marriages were a secret to Emma, yet on the other hand describe her feelings as "jealously battling" something she supposedly did not know about.The facts: While there is ample evidence that shows Emma consented to at least a half-dozen wives, the authors ignore any discussion on the implications and meaning of this or her overall mixed feelings on the subject.
  1. REDIRECTEmma Smith's reaction to Joseph Smith's plural marriages#How did Emma Hale Smith react to Joseph's practice of plural marriage?

Response to claim: 253 - The authors state that "fully one-third of Joseph's plural wives, eleven of them, were polyandrous"

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

The authors note,

One misconception concerning Joseph's polyandry is that it was a practice represented in only one or two unusual marriages; however, fully one-third of Joseph's plural wives, eleven of them, were polyandrous.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The implication of "polyandrous" is that the women involved had two husbands at the same time. In reality, Joseph was sealed to those women for eternity, and they continued to live with their earthly husbands, and only their earthly husbands. Joseph never cohabited with or had relations with those women. In regard to polyandry, Daynes wrote: "Perhaps nothing is less understood than Joseph Smith's sealings to women already married, because the evidence supports conflicting interpretations."[3]

The authors base their shallow glimpse of this subject on what at times could be described as the historical guesswork of Compton, which carries its own subsequent set of problems. The authors merely repeat one sentence from Compton's book and fail to mention or consider any of Compton's long list of theories for reasons behind polyandry which might provide some understanding for the reader.[4]


Question: Was Joseph Smith married or sealed to women who were already married to other living men?

Joseph Smith was sealed to 11 women who were married to men who were still living. Some of these men were even active members of the Church

Among Joseph's plural marriages and/or sealings, between eight to eleven of them were to women who were already married. Of the eight well-documented cases, five of the husbands were Latter-day Saints, and the other three were either not active in or not associated with the Church. In all cases, these women continued to live with their husbands, most of them doing so until their husbands died. These eternal marriages appear to have had little effect upon the lives of the women involved, with the exception that they would be sealed to Joseph in the afterlife rather than to their earthly husbands. One of the most well-known of these "polyandrous" marriages was to Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs.[5]

Of all the aspects of Joseph Smith's marital theology, this is the most difficult area to understand, because very little primary evidence exists. As one scholar noted:

Perhaps nothing is less understood than Joseph Smith's sealings to women already married, because the evidence supports conflicting interpretations.[6]

Criticisms related to Joseph Smith's "polyandrous" marriages

These "polyandrous" marriages have given rise to a number of criticisms:

  • Why would Joseph be sealed to other men's wives?
  • What was the nature of these marriages? Were they consummated?
  • Why did these 11 women continue to live with and have children with their husbands even after being sealed to Joseph Smith?
  • One critic of the church notes, "Joseph Smith would frequently approach other men’s wives about being his own plural wives..." [7]

At the time that celestial marriage was introduced, it was possible to be married for time to one person and sealed for eternity to another. These marriages appear to have been performed for the purpose of forming dynastic bonds in the afterlife, as there is no evidence that Joseph ever cohabited or had intimate relations with any of these women. No children from these marriages have ever been identified. These were sealings which would only affect Joseph's association with these women in the afterlife.


Response to claim: 254 "Some might argue that these relationships were strictly platonic. Compton disagrees"

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

The authors state,

Some might argue that these relationships were strictly platonic. Compton disagrees, "Though it is possible that Joseph had some marriages in which there were no sexual relations, there is no explicit or convincing evidence for such a marriage (except, perhaps, in the cases of the older wives). And in a significant number of Joseph's marriages, there is evidence for sexual relations."

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The spin: While the authors readily accept the insinuation that all of Joseph's relationships were sexual, they fail to consider or even recognize the speculative (and what at times has been described as the self-serving) nature of Compton's exploration of polyandrous marriages.The facts: Sources do not show nor is there any reliable evidence that the way Joseph practiced polyandry included sexual or familial relations.


Articles about Plural marriage
Doctrinal foundation of plural marriage
Introduction of plural marriage
Plural marriage in Utah
End of plural marriage

Can you summarize what we know about whether or not Joseph Smith fathered any children by his plural wives?

The record is frustratingly incomplete regarding the question of which marriages were consummated, it is likewise spotty with regards to whether Joseph fathered children by his plural wives

The record is frustratingly incomplete regarding the question of which marriages were consummated, it is likewise spotty with regards to whether Joseph fathered children by his plural wives. Fawn Brodie was the first to consider this question in any detail, though her standard of evidence was depressingly low. Subsequent authors have returned to the problem, though unanimity has been elusive (see Table 1). Ironically, Brodie did not even mention the case of Josephine Lyon, now considered the most likely potential child of Joseph.

Table 11‑1 Possible Children of Joseph Smith, Jr., by Plural Marriage

Key:
  • NM = Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 2nd edition (1971);
  • Bachman, "Mormon Practice of Polygamy" (1975);
  • VW=Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy, 2nd edition (1989);
  • Fo = Foster, Religion and Sexuality (1984);
  • Co = Compton, In Sacred Loneliness (1997);
  • Be = Bergera, "Identifying the Earliest Mormon Polygamists," (2005);
  • Ha = Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy (2013).

Notation:

  • Y – indicates the author considers the child a possible child of Joseph Smith, Jr.
  • N - indicates that author argues against this child being Joseph's child, or lists someone else as the father.
  • Ø - indicates that author does not mention the possibility (pro or con) of this being Joseph's child.

Table1-ChildrenOfPluralMarriage.PNG

Endnote links for above table

[8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16] [17] [18] [19] [20] [21] [22] [23] [24] [25] [26] [27] [28] [29] [30] [31] [32] [33] [34] [35] [36] [37] [38] [39] [40] [41] [42] [43]

Did Joseph Smith father any children through polygamous marriages?

Science has eliminated most of the possibilities that had long been rumored to be descendants of Joseph Smith. There are a couple for which DNA can tell us nothing either way and that rest on dubious historical reasoning. Thus critics cannot claim in honesty that Joseph had any children by his polygamous wives.

It is claimed that Joseph Smith fathered children with some of his plural wives, and that he covered up the evidence of pregnancies. It is also claimed that Joseph Smith had intimate relations with other men’s wives to whom he had been sealed, and that children resulted from these unions.

Critics of Joseph Smith have long had difficulty reconciling their concept of Joseph as a promiscuous womanizer with the fact that the only recorded children of the prophet are those that he had with Emma. Science is now shedding new light on this issue as DNA research has eliminated most of the possibilities that had long been rumored to be descendants of Joseph Smith. In the case of at least two, however, DNA cannot tell us either way. The historical reasoning for justifying that Joseph had children by these wives is dubious.

Did Joseph Smith produce any children by his plural wives?: The case for children

Josephine Fisher (Josephine Lyon)

DNA analysis has determined that Josephine Fisher is not a descendant of Joseph Smith, Jr., [44] but for many years she appeared to be the strongest possibility. The resolution of this question was difficult to resolve until the appropriate DNA analysis techniques became available. These findings have been replicated in non-Latter-day Saint, peer-reviewed, reputable journals.[45]

The case of Josephine Fisher relied on a deathbed conversation:

Just prior to my mothers death in 1882 she called me to her bedside and told me that her days were about numbered and before she passed away from mortality she desired to tell me something which she had kept as an entire secret from me and from all others but which she now desired to communicate to me. She then told me that I was the daughter of the Prophet Joseph Smith….[46]

Perhaps significantly, Josephine's name shares a clear link with Joseph's. Whether this account proved that she was his biological daughter had long been debated:

Rex Cooper…has questioned the interpretation that Smith was Fisher's biological father. He posits that because Fisher's mother was sealed to Smith, Fisher was his daughter only in a spiritual sense…More problematic is whether there is a discrepancy between what Fisher understood and what her mother meant. That is, did Fisher interpret her mother's remarks to mean she was the biological daughter of Joseph Smith and thus state that with more certitude than was warranted, when in fact her mother meant only that in the hereafter Fisher would belong to Joseph Smith's family through Session's sealing to him? Because Sessions was on her deathbed, when one's thoughts naturally turn to the hereafter, the latter is a reasonable explanation.[47]

As Danel Bachman notes, however, there seems to be relatively little doubt that

[t]he desire for secrecy as well as the delicacy of the situation assure us that Mrs. Sessions was not merely explaining to her daughter that she was Smith's child by virtue of a temple sealing. The plain inference arising from Jenson's curiosity in the matter and Mrs. Fisher's remarks is that she was, in fact, the offspring of Joseph Smith.[48]

However, DNA evidence now disproves this theory. It is possible, then, that Fisher misunderstood her mother, but this seems unlikely. Any unreliability is more likely to arise because of a dying woman's confusion than from miscommunication. No evidence exists for such confusion, though we cannot rule it out.

Josephine's account is also noteworthy because her mother emphasizes that "…she [had] been sealed to the Prophet at the time that her husband Mr. Lyon was out of fellowship with the Church."[49] This may explain her reasoning for being sealed to Joseph at all—her husband was out of fellowship. Todd Compton opines that "[i]t seems unlikely that Sylvia would deny [her husband] cohabitation rights after he was excommunicated," but this conclusion seems based on little but a gut reaction.[50] These women took their religion seriously; given Sylvia's deathbed remarks, this was a point she considered important enough to emphasize. She apparently believed it would provide an explanation for something that her daughter might have otherwise misunderstood.

There is also clear evidence that at least some early members of the Church would have taken a similar attitude toward sexual relations with an unbelieving spouse. My own third-great grandfather, Isaiah Moses Coombs, provides a striking illustration of this from the general membership of the Church.

Coombs had immigrated to Utah, but his non-member spouse refused to accompany him. Heartsick, he consulted Brigham Young for advice. Young "sat with one hand on my knee, looking at my face and listen[ing] attentively." Then, Young took the new arrival "by the hand in his fatherly way," and said "[Y]ou had better take a mission to the States…to preach the gospel and visit your wife…visit your wife as often as you please; preach the gospel to her, and if she is worth having she will come with you when you return to the valley. God bless and prosper you."[51]

Coombs did as instructed, but was not successful in persuading his wife. His description of his thoughts is intriguing, and worth quoting at length:

I may as well state here, however, that during all my stay in the States, [my wife and I] were nothing more to each other than friends. I never proposed or hinted for a closer intimacy only on condition of her baptism into the Church. I felt that I could not take her as a wife on any other terms and stand guiltless in the sight of God or my own conscience…I could not yield to her wishes and she would not bend to mine. And so I merely visited her as a friend. This was a source of wonder to our mutual acquaintances; and well it might be for had not my faith been founded on the eternal rock of Truth, I never could have stood such a test, I never could have withstood the temptations that assailed me, but I should have yielded and have abandoned myself to the life of carnal pleasure that awaited me in the arms of my beautiful and adored wife. She was now indeed beautiful. I had thought her lovely as a child—as a maiden she had seemed to me surpassing fair, but as a woman with a form well developed and all the charms of her persona matured, she far surpassed in womanly beauty anything I had ever dreamed of.[52]

Coombs' account is startlingly blunt and explicit for the age. Yet, if this young twenty-two-year-old male refused marital intimacy with his wife (whom he married knowing their religious differences), Compton's confidence that Sylvia Sessions would not deny marital relations to her excommunicated husband seems misplaced. Sessions may, like Coombs, have seen her faithfulness to the sealing ordinances sufficient to "eventually either in this life or that which is to come enable me to bind my [spouse] to me in bands that could not be broken." Like him, she may have believed that "[My spouse] was blind then but the day would come when [he] would see."[53]

More importantly, however, is Brian Hales’ more recent work, which demonstrates that Sylvia Sessions Lyon may well have not been married to her husband when sealed to Joseph Smith, contrary to Compton’s conclusion. Thus, rather than being a case of polyandry with sexual relations with two men (Joseph and her first husband) Lyons is instead a case of straight-forward plural marriage.[54] Given that Joseph has been ruled out as Josephine's father, it may be that Sylvia's emphasis to Josephine about being Joseph's "daughter" referred to a spiritual or sealing sense, and she wished to explain to her daughter why Josephine was, then, sealed to Joseph Smith rather than her biological father.

Other possible children

Olive Gray Frost is mentioned in two sources as having a child by Joseph. Both she and the child died in Nauvoo, so no genetic evidence will ever be forthcoming.[55]

Did Joseph Smith produce any children by his plural wives? The case against children

Angus M. Cannon seems to have been aware of Fisher's claim to be a child of Joseph Smith, though only second hand. He told a sceptical Joseph Smith III of

one case where it was said by the girl's grandmother that your father has a daughter born of a plural wife. The girl's grandmother was Mother Sessions, who lived in Nauvoo and died here in the valley. Aunt Patty Sessions asserts that the girl was born within the time after your father was said to have taken the mother.[56]

Clearly, Cannon has no independent knowledge of the case, but reports a story similar to Josephine's affidavit. Cannon's statement is more important because it illustrates how the LDS Church's insistence that Joseph Smith had practiced plural marriage led some of the RLDS Church :to ask why no children by these wives existed. Lucy Walker reported [the RLDS] seem surprised that there was no issue from asserted plural marriages with their father. Could they but realize the hazardous life he lived, after that revelation was given, they would comprehend the reason. He was harassed and hounded and lived in constant fear of being betrayed by those who ought to have been true to him.[57] Thus the absence of children was something of an embarrassment to the Utah Church, which members felt a need to explain. It would have been greatly to their advantage to produce Joseph's offspring, but could not.[58]

Anxious to demonstrate that Joseph's plural marriages were marriages in the fullest sense, Lucy M. Walker (wife of Joseph's cousin, George A. Smith) reported seeing Joseph washing blood from his hands in Nauvoo. When asked about the blood, Joseph reportedly told her he had been helping Emma deliver one of his plural wives' children.[59] Yet, even this late account tells us little about the paternity of the children—Joseph was close to these women (and their husbands, in the case of polyandry), and given the Saints' belief in priesthood blessings, they may have well welcomed his involvement.

George Algernon Lightner and Florentine M. Lightner

Even by the turn of the century, the LDS Church had no solid evidence of children by Joseph. "I knew he had three children," said Mary Elizabeth Lightner, "They told me. I think two of them are living today but they are not known as his children as they go by other names."[60] Again, evidence for children is frustratingly vague—Lightner had only heard rumours, and could not provide any details. It would seem to me, however, that this remark of Lightner's rules out her children as possible offspring of Joseph. Her audience was clearly interested in Joseph having children, and she was happy to assert that such children existed. If her own children qualified, why did she not mention them?

Orson W. Hyde and Frank Henry Hyde

Two of Marinda Nancy Johnson Hyde's children have been suggested as possible children. The first, Orson, died in infancy, making DNA testing impossible. Compton notes, however, that "Marinda had no children while Orson was on his mission to Jerusalem, then became pregnant soon after Orson returned home. (He arrived in Nauvoo on December 7, 1842, and Marinda bore Orson Washington Hyde on November 9, 1843),"[61] putting the conception date around 16 February 1843.

Frank Hyde's birth date is unclear; he was born on 23 January in either 1845 or 1846.[62] This would place his conception around 2 May, of either 1844 or 1845. In the former case, Frank was conceived less than two months prior to Joseph's martyrdom. Orson Hyde left for Washington, D.C., around 4 April 1844,[63] and did not return until 6 August 1844, making Joseph's paternity more likely than Orson's if the earlier birth date is correct.[64] The key source for this claim is Fawn Brodie, who includes no footnote or reference. Given Brodie's tendency to misread evidence on potential children, this claim should be approached with caution.

Frank's death certificate lists Orson Hyde as the father, however, and places his birth in 1846, which would require conception nearly a year after Joseph's death.[65] A child by Joseph would have brought prestige to the family and Church, and Orson and Nancy had divorced long before Frank Henry's death.[66] It seems unlikely, therefore, that Orson would be credited with paternity over Joseph if any doubt existed. Without further data, Brodie's dating should probably be regarded as an error, ruling out Joseph as a possible father.

Ruled out by DNA Evidence: Oliver Buell, Mosiah Hancock, John Reed Hancock, Zebulon Jacobs, Moroni Llewllyn Pratt, and Orrison Smith

Scientific ingenuity has also been applied to the question of Joseph's paternity. Y-chromosome studies have conclusively eliminated Orrison Smith (son of Fanny Alger), Mosiah Hancock, Zebulon Jacobs, John Reed Hancock, Moroni Llewellyn Pratt, and Oliver Buell as Joseph's offspring.[67]

Two additional children—George Algernon Lightner and Orson W. Hyde—died in infancy, leaving no descendants to test, though as noted above Lightner can probably be excluded on the basis of his mother's testimony.

The testing of female descendants' DNA is much move involved, but work continues and may provide the only definitive means of ruling in or out potential children.

The case of Oliver Buell is an interesting one, since Fawn Brodie was insistent that he was Joseph's son. She based part of this argument on a photograph of Buell, which revealed a face which she claimed was "overwhelmingly on the side of Joseph's paternity."[68] A conception on this date would make Oliver two to three weeks overdue at birth, which makes Brodie's theory less plausible.[69]

Furthermore, prior the DNA results, Bachman and Compton pointed out that Brodie's timeline poses serious problems for her theory—Oliver's conception would have had to occurred between 16 April 1839 (when Joseph was allowed to escape during a transfer from Liberty Jail)[70] and 18 April, when the Huntingtons left Far West.[71] Brodie would have Joseph travel west from his escape near Gallatin, Davies County, Missouri, to Far West in order to meet Lucinda, and then on to Illinois to the east. This route would require Joseph and his companions to backtrack, while fleeing from custody in the face of an active state extermination order in force.[72] Travel to Far West would also require them to travel near the virulently anti-Mormon area of Haun's Mill, along Shoal Creek.[73] Yet, by 22 April Joseph was in Illinois, having been slowed by travel "off from the main road as much as possible"[74] "both by night and by day."[75] This seems an implausible time for Joseph to be meeting a woman, much less conceiving a child. Furthermore, it is evident that Far West was evacuated by other Church leaders, "the committee on removal," and not under the prophet’s direction, who did not regain the Saints until reaching Quincy, Illinois.[76]

Brodie's inclusion of Oliver Buell is also inconsistent, since he was born prior to Joseph's sealing to Prescinda. By including Oliver as a child, Brodie wishes to paint Joseph as an indiscriminate womanizer. Yet, her theory of plural marriage argues that Joseph "had too much of the Puritan in him, and he could not rest until he had redefined the nature of sin and erected a stupendous theological edifice to support his new theories on marriage."[77] Thus, Brodie argues that Joseph created plural marriage to justify his immorality—yet, she then has him conceiving a child with Prescinda before being sealed to her. By her own argument, the paternity must therefore be seen as doubtful.[78]

Despite Brodie's enthusiasm, no other author has included Oliver on their list of possible children (see Table 1). And, DNA evidence has conclusively ruled him out. Oliver is an excellent example of Brodie's tendency to ignore and misread evidence which did not fit her preconceptions, and suggests that caution is warranted before one condemns Joseph for a pre-plural marriage "affair" or other improprieties. Since Brodie was not interested in giving Joseph the benefit of the doubt, or avoiding a rush to judgment, her decision is not surprising.

John Reed Hancock is another of Brodie's suggestions, though no other author has followed her. The evidence for Joseph having married Clarissa Reed Hancock is scant,[79] and as with Oliver Buell it is unlikely (even under Brodie's jaded theory of plural marriage as justification for adultery) that Joseph would have conceived a child with a woman to whom he was not polygamously married. DNA testing has since confirmed our justified scepticism of Brodie's claim.[80]

John Hyrum Buell, Son of Prescinda Huntington Buell

Bachman mentions a "seventh child" of Prescinda's, likely John Hyrum Buell, for whom the timeline would better accommodate conception by Joseph Smith. There is no other evidence for Joseph's paternity, however, save Ettie V. Smith's account in the anti-Mormon Fifteen Years Among the Mormons (1859), which claimed that Prescinda said she did not know whether Joseph or her first husband was John Hyrum's father.[81] As Compton notes, such an admission is implausible, given the mores of the time.[82]

Besides being implausible, Ettie gets virtually every other detail wrong—she insists that William Law, Robert Foster, and Henry Jacobs had all been sent on missions, only to return and find their wives being courted by Joseph. Ettie then has them establish the Expositor.[83] While Law and Foster were involved with the Expositor, they were not sent on missions, and their wives did not charge that Joseph had propositioned them. Jacobs had served missions, but was present during Joseph's sealing to his wife, and did not object (see Chapter 9). Jacobs was a faithful Saint unconnected to the Expositor.

Even the anti-Mormon Fanny Stenhouse considered Ettie Smith to be a writer who "so mixed up fiction with what was true, that it was difficult to determine where one ended and the other began,"[84] and a good example of how "the autobiographies of supposed Mormon women were [as] unreliable"[85] as other Gentile accounts, given her tendency to "mingl[e] facts and fiction" "in a startling and sensational manner."[86]

Brodie herself makes no mention of John Hyrum as a potential child (and carelessly misreads Ettie Smith's remarks as referring to Oliver, not John Hyrum). No other historian has even mentioned this child, much less argued that Buell was not the father (see Table 1).

Scant evidence: Sarah Elizabeth Holmes, Hannah Ann Dibble, Loren Walker Dibble, Joseph Albert Smith, and Carolyn Delight

A few other possibilities should be mentioned, though the evidence surrounding them is tenuous. Sarah Elizabeth Holmes was born to Marietta Carter, though "No evidence links her with Joseph Smith."[87] The Dibble children suffer from chronology problems, and a lack of good evidence that Joseph and their mother was associated. Loren Dibble was, however, claimed by some Mormons as a child of Joseph’s when confronted with Joseph Smith III’s skepticism.[88]

Joseph Albert Smith was born to Esther Dutcher, but the available evidence supports her polyandrous sealing to Joseph as for eternity only. Carolyn Delight has no evidence at all of a connection to Joseph—the only source is a claim to Ugo Perego, a modern DNA researcher.[89] No textual or documentary evidence is known for her at all.

Fanny Alger and Eliza R. Snow: Miscarriages?

We have elsewhere seen the tenuous basis for many conclusions about the Fanny Alger marriage (see here and here). The first mention of a pregnancy for Fanny is in an 1886 anti-Mormon work, citing Chauncey Webb, with whom Fanny reportedly lived after leaving the Smith home.[90] Webb claimed that Emma "drove" Fanny from the house because she "was unable to conceal the consequences of her celestial relation with the prophet." If Fanny was pregnant, it is curious that no one else remarked upon it at the time, though it is possible that the close quarters of a nineteenth-century household provided Emma with clues. If Fanny was pregnant by Joseph, the child never went to term, died young, or was raised under a different name.

A family tradition—repeated by anti-Mormon Wyl—holds that Eliza R. Snow was pregnant and shoved down the stairs by a jealous Emma before being required to leave the Smith home.[91] The tradition holds that Eliza, "heavy with child" subsequently miscarried. While Eliza was required to leave the home and Emma was likely upset with her, no contemporary evidence points to a pregnancy.[92] Eliza's diary says nothing about the loss of a child, which would be a strange omission given her love of children.[93] It seems unlikely that Eliza would have still been teaching school in an advanced state of pregnancy, especially given that her appearance as a pregnant "unwed mother" would have been scandalous in Nauvoo. Emma's biographers note that "Eliza continued to teach school for a month after her abrupt departure from the Smith household. Her own class attendance record shows that she did not miss a day during the months she taught the Smith children, which would be unlikely had she suffered a miscarriage."[94] Given Emma's treatment of the Partridge sisters, who were also required to leave the Smith household, Emma certainly needed no pregnancy to raise her ire against Joseph's plural wives.

Eliza repeatedly testified to the physical nature of her relationship with Joseph Smith (see Chapter 9), and was not shy about criticizing Emma on the subject of plural marriage.[95] Yet, she never reported having been pregnant, or used her failed pregnancy as evidence for the reality of plural marriage.

In the absence of further information, both of these reported pregnancies must be regarded as extremely speculative.

What did the husband of Sylvia Sessions know about her sealing to Joseph Smith for eternity?

Sylvia was married to Windsor Lyon by Joseph Smith in Nauvoo, and was sealed to Joseph Smith at some point after she was married

Sylvia was married to Windsor Lyon by Joseph Smith in Nauvoo. She was sealed to Joseph Smith at some point after she was married. Brian Hales notes that , "This marriage triangle is unique among all of the Prophet’s plural marriages because there is strong evidence that Sylvia bore children to both men. She became pregnant by Windsor Lyon in October of 1838, September of 1840, and April of 1842. Then a year later became pregnant with a daughter (named Josephine—born February 8, 1844) that was purportedly fathered by the Prophet." Sylvia's daughter, who had the intriguing name "Josephine," made the following statement:

Just prior to my mothers [Sylvia Sessions Lyon] death in 1882 she called me to her bedside and told me that her days on earth were about numbered and before she passed away from mortality she desired to tell me something which she had kept as an entire secret fro me and from others until no but which she now desired to communicate to me. She then told me that I was the daughter of the Prophet Joseph Smith, she having been sealed to the Prophet at the time that her husband Mr. Lyon had was out of fellowship with the Church.

Daughter Josephine was proven not to be a daughter of Joseph Smith, Jr. through DNA analysis

For many years, Josephine appeared to be the only viable candidate as a child of Joseph Smiths "polyandrous" sealings. However, DNA analysis ultimately disproved the paternity claim: Josephine was not a descendant of Joseph Smith, Jr.[96]

Sylvia may have considered herself divorced from Windsor after he was excommunicated from the Church

It appears, however, that Sylvia may have considered herself divorced from Windsor after he was excommunicated from the Church and left Nauvoo. Hales points out that "Currently, no documentation of a legal divorce between Windsor and Sylvia after his excommunication has been found. However, in the mid-nineteenth century, religious laws often trumped legal proceedings. Stanley B. Kimball observed: 'Some church leaders at that time considered civil marriage by non-Mormon clergymen to be as unbinding as their baptisms. Some previous marriages . . . were annulled simply by ignoring them.'" [97] The sealing to Joseph occurred after Windor's excommunication. Andrew Jenson, in his historical record, referred to Sylvia as a "formerly the wife of Windsor Lyons." [98] There is no known evidence that Windsor lived with Sylvia after he returned to Nauvoo, but Sylvia did "rejoin" Windsor after he was rebaptised in 1846. Hales states, "No details are available to clarify what authority was used to reconfirm the marriage relationship between Sylvia and Windsor after their previous marital separation. Most likely the couple consulted with Brigham Young or Heber C. Kimball, who authorized their rejoining. Whether a private religious marriage ceremony for time was performed or the couple resumed observing their legal marriage is unknown. Importantly, even with the renewed conjugality between Windsor and Sylvia after Joseph Smith’s death, no evidence has been found to support her involvement in sexual polyandry at any time." [99]

Did Prescindia Buell (or Sarah Pratt, or Mrs. Hyde) not know who was the father of her son?

The source for this claim is a notoriously unreliable anti-Mormon work. It makes several errors of fact in the very paragraph in which the claim is made

It is claimed that Prescindia Lathrop Huntington Buell admitted that she did not know who was the father of her child—Joseph Smith or her first husband. Sometimes Sarah Pratt (wife of apostle Orson Pratt) is mistakenly identified as the woman in this story. [100] Others sometimes mention Orson Hyde's wife as the source of this rumor. [101]

The source for this claim is a notoriously unreliable anti-Mormon work. It makes several errors of fact in the very paragraph in which the claim is made.

It is implausible that the supposed admission upon which the claim is based would be made. There are major historical problems of geography and timeline for Joseph to have even been a potential father of Buell's child.

The claim cannot be substantiated.

Is the source reliable?

This book was written by Nelson Winch Green, who reported what estranged member Marry Ettie V. Coray Smith reportedly told him.

Even other anti-Mormon authors who had lived in Utah regarded it as nearly worthless. Fanny Stenhouse wrote:

Much has already been written on this subject much that is in accordance with facts, and much that is exaggerated and false. Hitherto, with but one exception [Mrs. Ettie V. Smith is noted in the footnote as the work referred to] that of a lady who wrote very many years ago, and who in her writings, so mixed up fiction with what was true, that it was difficult to determine where the one ended and the other began no woman who really was a Mormon and lived in Polygamy ever wrote the history of her own personal experience. Books have been published, and narratives have appeared in the magazines and journals, purporting to be written by Mormon wives; it is, however, perhaps, unnecessary for me to state that, notwithstanding such narratives may be imposed upon the Gentile world as genuine, that they were written by persons outside the Mormon faith would in a moment be detected by any intelligent Saint who took the trouble to peruse them. [102]

So, we must remember that this work is not regarded as generally reliable today, and it was not regarded as reliable even by the Church's enemies in the 19th century.

The claim

The source for this claim is an anti-Mormon book. The relevant passage reads:

The Prophet had sent some time before this, three men, Law, Foster and Jacobs, on missions, and they had just returned, and found their wives blushing under the prospective honors of spiritual wifeism; and another woman, Mrs. Buel [sic], had left her husband, a Gentile, to grace the Prophet's retinue, on horseback, when he reviewed the Nauvoo Legion. I heard the latter woman say afterwards in Utah, that she did not know whether Mr. Buel [sic] or the Prophet was the father of her son. These men [Law, Foster and Jacobs] established a press in Nauvoo, to expose his alleged vicious teachings and practices, which a revelation from Joseph destroyed. [103]

Errors of fact

As might be expected, then, there are many claims in this passage that are in error. We know that the following are false:

  • Ettie Smith claims that William Law, Robert D. Foster, and Henry Jacobs were on missions and that Joseph had proposed plural marriage to them. Law and Foster, in fact, never served missions. Henry Jacobs did serve a mission, but he was not gone on a mission when Joseph discussed plural marriage.
  • Foster and Law did participate in publishing the Nauvoo Expositor, but Henry Jacobs did not. He was and remained a faithful member of the Church.
  • The destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor was undertaken by the Nauvoo city council. Some members of that council were not members of the Church--it seems implausible to think that they would bow to a "revelation" to Joseph requiring its destruction. The decision was made, instead, after 8 hours of discussion and after consulting legal references.

Thus, in the single paragraph we have several basic errors of fact. Why should we believe the gossip of what Mrs. Buell is claimed to have said?

Such an admission would be out of character for a believing Utah woman of the 19th century

Furthermore, such an admission would be out of character for a believing Utah woman of the 19th century. As Todd Compton notes:

Talk of sexuality was avoided by the Victorian, puritanical Mormons; in diaries, the word 'pregnant' or 'expecting' is never or rarely used. Women are merely 'sick' until they have a child. Polyandry was rarely discussed openly by Mormon women. [104]

It is difficult for Joseph to have even had contact with her at the proper time to conceive a child

Fawn Brodie painted a fanciful scenario in which Joseph would have been able to potentially father a Buell child. However, she misread the historical information, and it is difficult, as Todd Compton has demonstrated, for Joseph to have even had contact with her at the proper time to conceive a child. [105] This would suggest that there were no grounds for Mrs. Buell—or a modern reader—to conclude that Joseph might have been the father.

Did Joseph Smith father children by polyandrous plural wife Prescindia Buell?

All those who have been definitively DNA tested so far—Oliver Buell, Mosiah Hancock, Zebulon Jacobs, Moroni Pratt, and Orrison Smith—have been excluded as children of Joseph Smith

Nauvoo Polygamy author George D. Smith tells his readers that "until decisive DNA testing of possible [Joseph] Smith descendants—daughters as well as sons—from plural wives can be accomplished, ascertaining whether Smith fathered children with any of his plural wives remains hypothetical" (pp. 228–29, cf. p. 473). This is true, but G. D. Smith fails to tell us that all those who have been definitively tested so far—Oliver Buell, Mosiah Hancock, Zebulon Jacobs, Moroni Pratt, and Orrison Smith—have been excluded. Would he have neglected, I wonder, to mention a positive DNA test?

The consequences of George D. Smith's less-than-rigorous approach to sources becomes clear in the case of Oliver Buell, son of Presendia.[106] Huntington Buell, one of Joseph’s polyandrous plural wives. Fawn Brodie was the first to suggest that Oliver Buell was Joseph’s son, and she was so convinced (based on photographic evidence)[107]Fawn Brodie to Dale Morgan, Letter, 24 March 1945, Dale Morgan papers, Marriott Library, University of Utah; cited by Todd Compton, "Fawn Brodie on Joseph Smith's Plural Wives and Polygamy: A Critical View," in Reconsidering No Man Knows My History: Fawn M. Brodie and Joseph Smith in Retrospect, ed. Newell G. Bringhurst (Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press, 1996), 166.</ref> In a footnote, G. D. Smith notes that Todd Compton "considers it improbable that Joseph and Presendia would have found time together during the brief window of opportunity after his release from prison in Missouri" (p. 80 n. 63).[108]

The geography

This slight nod toward an opposite point of view is inadequate, however. G. D. Smith does not mention and hence does not confront the strongest evidence. Compton’s argument against Joseph’s paternity does not rest just on a "narrow window" of opportunity but on the fact that Brodie seriously misread the geography required by that window. It is not merely a question of dates. Brodie would have Joseph travel west from his escape near Gallatin, Davies County, Missouri, to Far West in order to meet Lucinda, and then on to Illinois toward the east. This route would require Joseph and his companions to backtrack while fleeing from custody in the face of an active state extermination order.[109] Travel to Far West would also require them to travel near the virulently anti-Mormon area of Haun’s Mill, along Shoal Creek.[110] Yet by April 22 Joseph was in Illinois, having been slowed by traveling "off from the main road as much as possible"[111]:320-321 "both by night and by day."[111]:327 This seems an implausible time for Joseph to be conceiving a child. Furthermore, it is evident that Far West was evacuated by other church leaders, "the committee on removal," and not under the Prophet’s direction. Joseph did not regain the Saints until reaching Quincy, Illinois, contrary to Brodie’s misreading.[111]:315, 319, 322-23, 327 Timing is the least of the problems with G. D. Smith’s theory.

Despite Brodie’s enthusiasm, few other authors have included Oliver on their list of possible children.[112] With so many authors ranged against him, G. D. Smith ought not to act as if Compton’s analysis is merely about dates.

The DNA

G. D. Smith also soft-pedals the most vital evidence—the DNA.[113] He makes no mention in the main text that Oliver’s paternity has been definitively ruled out by DNA testing. This admission is confined to a footnote, and its impact is minimized by its placement. After noting Compton’s disagreement with the main text’s suggestion that Oliver might be Joseph’s son, G. D. Smith writes, "There is no DNA connection," and cites a Deseret News article. He immediately follows this obtuse phrasing with a return to Compton, who finds it "‘unlikely, though not impossible, that Joseph Smith was the actual father of another Buell child,’ John Hiram, Presendia’s seventh child during her marriage to Buell and born in November 1843" (p. 80 n. 63). Thus the most salient fact—that Joseph is certainly not Oliver's father—is sandwiched between a vicarious discussion with Compton about whether Oliver or John could be Joseph’s sons. Since G. D. Smith knows there is definitive evidence against Joseph’s paternity in Oliver’s case, why mention the debate at all only to hide the answer in the midst of a long endnote? That Brodie is so resoundingly rebutted on textual, historical, and genetic grounds provides a cautionary lesson in presuming that her certainty counts for much.[114]

Maybe another Buell child?

Two pages later, G. D. Smith again tells us of a Buell child being sealed to a proxy for Joseph with "wording [that] hints that it might have been Smith’s child." "It is not clear," he tells us, "which of her children it might have been" (p. 82). In fact, what is clear is that he has not assimilated the implications of the DNA data. John Hiram, the seventh child about whom Compton is skeptical, is the only other option. Yet the only evidence for this child belonging to Joseph is Ettie V. Smith’s account in the anti-Mormon Fifteen Years among the Mormons (1859), which claimed that Presendia said she did not know whether Joseph or her first husband was John Hiram’s father.[115] As Compton notes, such an admission is implausible, given the mores of the time.[116]

Besides being implausible, Ettie’s account gets virtually every other detail wrong—insisting that William Law, Robert Foster, and Henry Jacobs had all been sent on missions only to return to find Joseph preaching plural marriage. Ettie then has them establish the Expositor.[117] While Law and Foster were involved with the Expositor, they were not sent on missions. Jacobs had served missions but was a faithful Saint unconnected to the Expositor. He was also, contrary to Ettie’s claims, present when Joseph was sealed polyandrously to his (Jacobs’s) wife.

Even the anti-Mormon Fanny Stenhouse considered Ettie Smith to be a writer who "so mixed up fiction with what was true, that it was difficult to determine where one ended and the other began,"[118]:618 and a good example of how "the autobiographies of supposed Mormon women were [as] unreliable"[118]:x as other Gentile accounts, given her tendency to "mingl[e] facts and fiction" "in a startling and sensational manner."[118]:xi-xii

Brodie herself makes no mention of John Hiram as a potential child, going so far as to carelessly misread Ettie Smith’s remarks as referring to Oliver, not John Hiram. No other historian has argued that Buell was not the father.[119] There is no good evidence whatever that any of Presendia’s children were Joseph’s. It is not clear why G. D. Smith clings to the idea.

What is the current state of the evidence for proving or disproving that Joseph Smith had children by his plural wives?

As always, we are left where we began—with more suspicions and possibilities than certitudes

Few authors agree on which children should even be considered as Joseph's potential children. Candidates which some find overwhelmingly likely are dismissed—or even left unmentioned—by others. Recent scholars have included between one to four potential children as options. Of these, Josephine Lyon was the most persuasive, until her relationship to Joseph Smith was ultimately disproven through DNA testing. Orson W. Hyde died in infancy, and so can never be definitively excluded as a possible child, though the dates of conception argue against Joseph's paternity. Olive Gray Frost is mentioned in two sources as having a child by Joseph. Both she and the child died in Nauvoo, so no genetic evidence will ever be forthcoming.[120]

Table 2

Table 11‑2 Possible Children of Joseph Smith, Jr., by Plural Marriage

This table is in the same order as Table 1.

Key:
  • NM = Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 2nd edition (1971);
  • Bachman, "Mormon Practice of Polygamy" (1975);
  • VW=Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy, 2nd edition (1989);
  • Fo = Foster, Religion and Sexuality (1984);
  • Co = Compton, In Sacred Loneliness (1997);
  • Be = Bergera, "Identifying the Earliest Mormon Polygamists," (2005);
  • Ha = Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy (2013).

Notation:

  • Y – indicates the author considers the child a possible child of Joseph Smith, Jr.
  • N - indicates that author argues against this child being Joseph's child, or lists someone else as the father.
  • Ø - indicates that author does not mention the possibility (pro or con) of this being Joseph's child.

Table2-ChildrenOfPluralMarriage.png

Endnote links for above table

Brodie;[121] Bachman;[122]; and Compton.[123]

Conclusions

As always, we are left where we began—with more suspicions and possibilities than certitudes. One's attitude toward Joseph and the Saints will influence, more than anything else, how these conflicting data are interpreted.

The uncertainty surrounding Joseph's offspring is even more astonishing when we appreciate how much such a child would have been valued. The Utah Church of the 19th century was anxious to prove that Joseph had practiced full plural marriage, and that their plural families merely continued what he started. Any child of Joseph's would have been treasured, and the family honoured. There was a firm expectation that even Joseph's sons by Emma would have an exalted place in the LDS hierarchy if they were to repent and return to the Church.[124] As Alma Allred noted, "Susa Young Gates indicated that [Brigham Young] wasn’t aware of such a child when she wrote that her father and the other apostles were especially grieved that Joseph did not have any issue in the Church."[125]

In 1884, George Q. Cannon bemoaned this lack of Joseph's posterity:

There may be faithful men who will have unfaithful sons, who may not be as faithful as they might be; but faithful posterity will come, just as I believe it will be the case with the Prophet Joseph's seed. To-day he has not a soul descended from him personally, in this Church. There is not a man bearing the Holy Priesthood, to stand before our God in the Church that Joseph was the means in the hands of God, of founding—not a man to-day of his own blood,—that is, by descent,—to stand before the Lord, and represent him among these Latter-day Saints.[126]

Brigham and Cannon, a member of the First Presidency, would have known of Joseph's offspring if any of the LDS leadership did. Yet, despite the religious and public relations value which such a child would have provided, they knew of none. It is possible that Joseph had children by his plural wives, but by no means certain. The data are surprisingly ephemeral.

Was the only purpose of polygamy to "multiply and replenish the earth" and "bear the souls of men"?

Doctrine and Covenants states that polygamy is for the purpose of multiplying and replenishing the earth

Doctrine and Covenants 132:63 states,

But 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 institution of the practice of polygamy was part of the "restoration of all things"

Polygamy was not permitted only for the purpose of procreation. Joseph established the practice of plural marriage as part of the "restoration of all things," (D&C 132: 40, 45) and introduced it to a number of others within the Church. This alone may have been the purpose of Joseph's initiation of the practice. The establishment of the practice ultimately did have the effect of "raising up seed"...just not through Joseph Smith.

As Brian Hales writes:

Joseph Smith dictated what is now Doctrine and Covenant section 132 on July 12, 1843. This revelation, along with his other statements, provide several reasons why he believed plural marriage could be introduced among the Latter-day Saints.

The earliest justification mentioned by the Prophet was as a part of the "restitution of all things" prophesied in Acts 3:19–21. Old Testament prophets practiced polygamy, so it could be a part of the restoration of "all things" (see D&C 132:40, 45).

Several members who knew Joseph Smith left accounts of him referring to a connection between the two during the Kirtland period.

Benjamin F. Johnson recalled in 1903: "In 1835 at Kirtland I learned from my Sisters Husband, Lyman R. Shirman,[127] who was close to the Prophet, and Received it from him. That the ancient order of plural marriage was again to be practiced by the Church."[128]

A few years later in 1841, Joseph Smith attempted to broach the topic publicly. Helen Mar Kimball remembered: "He [Joseph] astonished his hearers by preaching on the restoration of all things, and said that as it was anciently with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, so it would be again, etc."[129] Joseph Smith was a prophet-restorer, which helps to explain why the command to practice plural marriage has been labeled a "restoration," even though it is not a salvific ordinance.[130]

The institution of the practice of polygamy made available the blessings of eternal marriage to everyone

Brian Hales addresses one aspect of D&C 132 that may be overlooked in casual readings:

The fourth reason Joseph Smith gave for the practice of plural marriage dwarfs the other three explanations in significance because it deals with eternity. The message of D&C 132:16–17 states that men and women who are not sealed in eternal marriages during this life (or vicariously later) "remain separately and singly, without exaltation, in their saved condition, to all eternity."

In other words, "exaltation," the highest salvation, requires eternal marriage. No unmarried person can be exalted according to Joseph Smith’s teachings. Doctrine and Covenants section 132 seems to anticipate more worthy women than men as it approves a plurality of wives[131] and disallows a plurality of husbands.[132] Verse 63 states that a plurality of wives is "for their [the wives] exaltation in the eternal worlds." Section 132 supports that eternity was the primary focus of the Joseph’s marriage theology rather than plurality or sexuality. Eternal, rather than plural, marriage was his zenith doctrine. It appears that the crucial objective of polygamy on earth was to allow all worthy women to be eternally sealed to a husband and thus obtain all the ordinances needed for exaltation. According to these teachings, a plurality of wives in some form may be practiced in eternity, but not by all worthy men and women. We know that polygamy on earth is unequal and difficult, but we know nothing about how eternal marriage or eternal plural marriage might feel in eternity. Brigham Young acknowledged that eternal marriage (not plural marriage) is "the thread which runs from the beginning to the end" in God’s plan for His children:

The whole subject of the marriage [not plural marriage] relation is not in my reach, nor in any other man’s reach on this earth. It is without beginning of days or end of years; it is a hard matter to reach. We can tell some things with regard to it; it lays the foundation for worlds, for angels, and for the Gods; for intelligent beings to be crowned with glory, immortality, and eternal lives. In fact, it is the thread which runs from the beginning to the end of the holy Gospel of salvation—of the Gospel of the Son of God; it is from eternity to eternity.[133][134]

Can this be included in the interpretation of D&C 132: 63?

Another author commenting on this verse made a compelling case for this theology being put into D&C 132: 63:

Here is the text in its entirety, from verse 62: "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." [Emphasis added.] You want to get legalistic? Let’s get legalistic. Just for fun, let’s parse the living snot out of this.This clause begins with multiplying and replenishing as a primary justification. Then we get the word "and" thrown in there. You’re reading this as if it says "they are given unto him to multiply and replenish the earth, according to my commandment, in order to fulfil the promise…" But that’s not what it says.

"And" suggests we’re about to get a second reason, not a clarification of the first. In fact, a tight, strict-constructionist reading of this verse reveals three different and distinct reasons for plural marriage, not "only" the replenishment of the earth, [. . .]So let’s review the three reasons:

1. Multiply and replenish the earth.
[. . .] D&C 132 is unequivocal on this point, just as it is unequivocal on the two points that follow.

2. Fulfil [sic] "the promise which was given by my Father before the foundation of the world."

What promise? This seems to have reference to the "restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began." (Acts 3:21) Joseph cited the need to restore ancient practices to prepare for the Second Coming as a justification for polygamy, and this verse provides a credible scriptural context for him to do so. So just relying on this phrase – plural marriage is acceptable because it fulfills God’s promises – would be justification enough for the practice, at least according to D&C 132.
3. For "their exaltation in the eternal worlds, that they may bear the souls of men."

Oh, this one’s my favorite. Notice the emphasis I added on the "that." The word appears there to create a conditional clause. You claim the bearing of souls is the same thing as multiplying and replenishing the earth, but the actual text insists that the bearing of the souls of men will only be made possible by "exaltation in the eternal worlds." This is a promise of eternal increase, of bearing souls after the earth is no longer around to be replenished. Big, big difference.

And right here, with Reason #3, we have a clear rationale and justification for Joseph being sealed to women with whom he made no attempts to multiply and replenish the earth – i.e. no sex.[135]
See also Brian Hales' discussion
Both modern and 19th century members of the Church have proposed a variety of explanations for the practice of plural marriage. Not all of these suggestions can be supported by the available data.

Joseph identified four reasons for the restoration of plural marriage.

Many are quick to declare that Joseph's polygamy sprang from religious extremism and/or sexual desire. This article explores the difficulties that Joseph had with plural marriage, and evidence for what truly motivated his acts.

Why did early members of the Church practice polygamy? Were they all dupes? Easily manipulated? Religious fanatics who believed Joseph could do no wrong? This article explores the initial reactions and eventual decisions made by the first generation of polygamists in Nauvoo.


Why would Joseph Smith be sealed to other men's wives?

Summary: Why would Joseph Smith be sealed to other men's wives? Some of these men were even active members of the Church. Were these marriages for time or only for eternity? Were these marriages consumated? Why did these women continue to live with the husbands after being sealed to Joseph Smith?

Question: Were there sexual relations in Joseph's marriages to women with living husbands?

Summary: There is no good evidence for sexual relations in polyandrous sealings.
See also Brian Hales' discussion
Some wonder if sexual relations were included in Joseph Smith’s plural marriages. The answer is yes or no, depending upon the type of plural marriage. Those marriages, often called “sealings,” were of two types. Some were for this life and the next (called “time-and-eternity”) and could include sexuality on earth. Others were limited to the next life (called “eternity-only”) and did not allow intimacy in mortality. Overall, evidence indicates that less than half of Joseph Smith’s polygamous unions were consummated and sexual relations in the others occurred infrequently.

It appears the Prophet experienced sexual relations with less than half of the women sealed to him. There is no credible evidence that Joseph had sex with three subgroups of his plural wives: (1) fourteen-year-old wives, (2) non-wives (or women to whom he was not married), and (3) legally married women who were experiencing conjugal relations with their civil husbands.

No children are known to have been born to Joseph and his plural wives.


Notes

  1. Richard S. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989), 89.
  2. Of the non-biblical cultural abhorrence of polygamy, Stephen E. Robinson writes: "In Western culture plural marriage is generally abhorred, but the roots of this abhorrence can hardly be described as biblical, for the Old Testament explicitly sanctions polygamy and the New Testament does not forbid it. The practice could not have been abhorrent to Jesus and the first-century Jewish Christians, for their culture was not Western, and plural marriage was sanctioned in the law of Moses, the holiness of which was endorsed by both Jesus and Paul. Indeed, it is possible that some Jewish Christians of the first century continued to practice plural marriage just as they continued Sabbath observance, circumcision, and other practices related to their cultural and religious background. The cultural milieu of Judaism and early Christianity simply cannot be the source of the Western horror of plural marriage, for plural marriages were common in the environment of the earliest Christian church.

    I do not deny that polygamy is now abhorred in Western culture generally and in modern Christianity particularly. What I deny is that the source of that abhorrence is biblical. It is derived not from the biblical heritage but the classical-the abhorrence of polygamy comes from Greece and Rome. As orthodox a figure as Saint Augustine knew that the prohibition of plural marriage in the church of his day was only a matter of Roman custom: 'Again, Jacob the son of Isaac is charged with having committed a great crime because he had four wives. But here there is no ground for a criminal accusation: for a plurality of wives was no crime when it was the custom; and it is a crime now, because it is no longer the custom… The only reason of its being a crime now to do this, is because custom and the laws forbid it.' Though pagan culture could freely tolerate multiple sexual partners, it could tolerate only one wife. In that respect Greco-Roman culture was very similar to contemporary Western culture.

    Clearly, then, the antagonism to plural marriage was not biblical in origin, for the bosom of Abraham, where most Christians long to repose, is a polygamous bosom, and the house of Israel, into which most Christians seek admission, is a polygamous house. [Stephen E. Robinson, Are Mormons Christians? (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1991), 92-93.]
  3. Kathryn M. Daynes, More Wives than One: Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System, 1840–1910 (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2001), 29. ISBN 0252026810.
  4. Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 15-23. ( Index of claims )
  5. Samuel Katich, "A Tale of Two Marriage Systems: Perspectives on Polyandry and Joseph Smith," Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research, 2003.
  6. Kathryn M. Daynes, More Wives than One: Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System, 1840–1910 (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2001), 29. ISBN 0252026810.
  7. John Dehlin, "Questions and Answers," Mormon Stories Podcast (25 June 2014)
  8. Richard S. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989), 43–44, and 43n43.
  9. Lawrence Foster, Religion and Sexuality: The Shakers, the Mormons, and the Oneida Community, Illini Book Edition ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1984 [1981]), 157–158.. Foster notes that "there are a number of family traditions in Utah of children by plural wives of Joseph Smith, I have not been able to investigate them closely enough to determine their possible validity" (311n116). Foster then cites Brodie for examples of such allegations. Foster's work cannot be considered an independent examination of the evidence for or against the paternity of specific individuals.
  10. Bergera writes that four "may or may not" have been fathered by Joseph, citing Todd Compton, "Fawn Brodie on Joseph Smith's Plural Wives and Polygamy: A Critical View," in Reconsidering No Man Knows My History: Fawn M. Brodie and Joseph Smith in Retrospect, ed. Newell G. Bringhurst (Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press, 1996), xxx. as the authority. See Gary James Bergera, "Identifying the Earliest Mormon Polygamists, 1841–44," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 38/ 3 (Fall 2005): 49–50n115. Interestingly, Compton's article lists only one of these four (Josephine Fisher) as a likely child of Joseph's—Bergera's reference does not support his claim.
  11. Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy Vol. 1, 298–299.
  12. Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1945), 345. ( Index of claims )
  13. Danel W. Bachman, “A Study of the Mormon Practice of Polygamy Before the Death of Joseph Smith,” (1975) (unpublished M.A. thesis, Purdue University), 140.
  14. Compton, "Fawn Brodie on Joseph Smith's Plural Wives," 172.
  15. Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 301–302, 345–346, 470–471.
  16. Bachman, "Mormon Practice of Polygamy," 140.
  17. Compton, "Fawn Brodie on Joseph Smith's Plural Wives," 172.
  18. Compton, "Fawn Brodie on Joseph Smith's Plural Wives," 167–168. gives the following data which argue for the 1840 birthdate: Prescinda's genealogy records, Essom's Pioneers and Prominent Men of Utah, "A Venerable Woman," Women's Exponent, Prescinda's holographic autobiography. Only Augusta Joyce Crocheron, Representative Women of Deseret mentions the 1839 date, saying merely, "About this time' her son Oliver was born" (italics added). Clearly the 1840 date has much better attestation.
  19. Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 301–302, 345, 460–462. Brodie was so convinced of Joseph's paternity, that she wrote "If Oliver Buell isn't a Smith them I'm no Brimhall [her mother's family]." - Fawn Brodie to Dale Morgan, Letter, 24 March 1945, Dale Morgan papers, Marriott Library, University of Utah; cited by Compton, "Fawn Brodie on Joseph Smith's Plural Wives," 166. Compton devastates Brodie's circumstantial case for Buell as a child of Joseph (166–173), and DNA has definitively vindicated his skepticism.
  20. Bachman, "Mormon Practice of Polygamy," 137–138.
  21. Compton, "Fawn Brodie on Joseph Smith's Plural Wives," 166–173.
  22. Bachman, "Mormon Practice of Polygamy," 139. suggests that this child is more likely than Oliver to be Joseph's, but he remains skeptical.
  23. Compton, "Fawn Brodie on Joseph Smith's Plural Wives," 167.
  24. Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 345, 464.
  25. Bachman, "Mormon Practice of Polygamy," 139.
  26. Compton, "Fawn Brodie on Joseph Smith's Plural Wives," 164.
  27. Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 465.
  28. Compton, "Fawn Brodie on Joseph Smith's Plural Wives," 164.
  29. Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 345, 467.
  30. Bachman, "Mormon Practice of Polygamy", 140}}
  31. Compton, "Fawn Brodie on Joseph Smith's Plural Wives," 165.
  32. Compton, "Fawn Brodie on Joseph Smith's Plural Wives," 165.
  33. Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 345, 464.
  34. Bachman, "Mormon Practice of Polygamy," 139.
  35. Compton points out that "It is striking that Marinda had no children while Orson was on his mission to Jerusalem [15 April 1840–7 December 1842], then became pregnant soon after Orson returned home. (He arrived in Nauvoo on December 7, 1842, and Marinda bore Orson Washington Hyde on November 9, 1843). – Compton, "Fawn Brodie on Joseph Smith's Plural Wives," 165.
  36. Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 345, 464.
  37. Bachman, "Mormon Practice of Polygamy," 139–140.
  38. Compton, "Fawn Brodie on Joseph Smith's Plural Wives," 165.
  39. Bachman, "Mormon Practice of Polygamy," 140–141.
  40. Compton, "Fawn Brodie on Joseph Smith's Plural Wives," 172.
  41. Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 345, 464.
  42. Bachman, "Mormon Practice of Polygamy," 139–140.
  43. Compton, "Fawn Brodie on Joseph Smith's Plural Wives," 165.
  44. R. Scott Lloyd, "Joseph Smith apparently was not Josephine Lyon's father, Mormon History Association speaker says," Deseret News (13 June 2016)
  45. See Ugo A. Perego, Martin Bodner, Alessandro Raveane, Scott R. Woodward, Francesco Montinaro, Walther Parson, and Alessandro Achilli, "Resolving a 150-year-old Paternity Case in Mormon History Using DTC Autosomal DNA Testing of Distant Relatives," Forensic Science International: Genetics, June 6, 2019. doi:10.1016/j.fsigen.2019.05.007.
  46. Josephine R Fisher, affidavit, 24 February 1915, LDS Archives.
  47. Kathryn M. Daynes, More Wives than One: Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System, 1840–1910 (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2001), 30. ISBN 0252026810.; citing Rex Eugene Cooper, Promises Made to the Fathers: Mormon Covenant Organization (Publications in Mormon Studies), (University of Utah Press, 1990), 143n1}}
  48. Bachman, "Mormon Practice of Polygamy," 142.
  49. Josephine R Fisher, affidavit, 24 February 1915, LDS Archives.
  50. Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 183. ( Index of claims )
  51. Kate B. Carter, ed., Isaiah M[oses] Coombs from His Diary and Journal (Salt Lake City, Utah: published by Daughters of Utah Pioneers through Utah Printing Company, n.d.), 345}}
  52. Carter, ed., Isaiah M[oses] Coombs from His Diary and Journal, 350–351.
  53. Carter, ed., Isaiah M[oses] Coombs from His Diary and Journal, 339.
  54. See Brian C. Hales, "The Joseph Smith-Sylvia Sessions Plural Sealing: Polyandry or Polygyny?" Mormon Historical Studies 9/1 (Spring 2008), 41–57. [41–57] and Brian C. Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy Volume 1: History (Salt Lake City, Utah: Greg Kofford Books, 2013), 349–376.
  55. Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy Vol. 1, 293, 297–298.
  56. Angus M. Cannon, Statement of an Interview with Joseph Smith, President of the ‘Reorganites,’ October 12, 1905," LDS Archives; cited by Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy, 44n43}}
  57. Lucy Walker Kimball, "Recollections," LDS Archives, 41; cited in Bachman, "Mormon Practice of Polygamy," 139.n165}} from Rodney W. Walker and Noel W. Stevenson, Ancestry and Descendants of John Walker [1794–1869] of Vermont and Utah, Descendants of Robert Walker, and Emigrant of 1632 from England to Boston, Mass. (Kaysville, Utah: Inland Printing Co., 1953), 35. Portions also cited by Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy, 44n43
  58. This need remains to the present. Despite the fact that most RLDS historians have accepted that Joseph Smith did teach and practice plural marriage, some members remain unconvinced. Reorganization conservative and voice for many "fundamentalist" members of the Reorganization Richard Price continues to insist that "The truth [that Joseph did not teach plural marriage] is found in Joseph's denials, and the fact that he had no children by any woman but his wife Emma." – Richard and Pamela Price, Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy—Vision Articles [from Vision Magazine, Vol. 32–46, 48–51, 53–56], vol. 2 (E-book: Price Publishing Company, n.d.)
  59. Bachman, "Mormon Practice of Polygamy," 140–141.; citing Lucy M. Smith, written statement (18 May 1892), in Papers of George A. Smith family, Special Collections, Marriot Library, University of Utah, Salt Lake City. Bachman notes that a second, undated, signed statement exists which tells "essentially the same story" in the Wilford C. Wood Museum in Bountiful, Utah. (See Bachman, "Mormon Practice of Polygamy," 140–141n175.)
  60. Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner, "Remarks," given at BYU 14 April 1905, typescript, BYU.
  61. Compton, "Fawn Brodie on Joseph Smith's Plural Wives," 165.
  62. Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 345, 464. gives his birth as 1845, though there is no footnote indicating her source. Frank's death certificate lists his birth in 1846}} Compton follows the date of 1846, citing Howard H. Barron, Orson Hyde: Missionary-Apostle-Colonizer (Salt Lake City: Horizon, 1977), 134 and Ancestral File.
  63. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 6:286. Volume 6 link Times and Seasons 5 (15 September 1844): 651}}
  64. Andrew Jenson, LDS Church Chronology: 1805–1914 (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co., 1914), entry for 6 August 1844. GospeLink.
  65. Frank H. Hyde, State of Utah--Death Certificate, State Board of Health File No. 967300}} Online at <http://wiki.hanksplace.net/index.php/Image:FrankHHyde.jpg>
  66. Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 249.
  67. Ugo A. Perego and Scott R. Woodward, "Reconstructing the Y-Chromosome of Joseph Smith" (paper presented at the Mormon History Association Conference, 28 May 2005); see also Ugo A. Perego et al., "Reconstructing the Y-Chromosome of Joseph Smith Jr.: Genealogical Applications," Journal of Mormon History 32/ 2 (Summer 2005); Carrie A. Moore, "DNA Tests Rule out 2 as Smith Descendants," Deseret Morning News 10 November 2007): Michael DeGroote, "DNA solves a Joseph Smith mystery," Deseret News (9 July 2011). Don Alonzo Smith was likewise ruled out; see letter from Perego to Hales on 6 December 2011 cited in Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy Vol. 1, 296, note i.
  68. Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 301. Brodie includes the picture between 298–299}}
  69. Bachman, "Mormon Practice of Polygamy," 138.
  70. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 3:320–321. Volume 3 link
  71. Compton, "Fawn Brodie on Joseph Smith's Plural Wives," 168–171.
  72. See Clark V. Johnson, "Northern Missouri," in S. Kent Brown, Donald Q. Cannon, Richard H. Jackson (editors), Historical Atlas of Mormonism (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994), 42}}
  73. Compton, "Fawn Brodie on Joseph Smith's Plural Wives," 170.
  74. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 3:320–321. Volume 3 link
  75. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 3:327. Volume 3 link
  76. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 3:315, 319, 322_323, 327. Volume 3 link
  77. Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 297.
  78. Bachman, "Mormon Practice of Polygamy," 138 makes similar points.
  79. See Compton, "Fawn Brodie on Joseph Smith's Plural Wives," 164–165.
  80. Michael DeGroote, "DNA solves a Joseph Smith mystery," Deseret News (9 July 2011).
  81. Nelson Winch Green, Fifteen Years among the Mormons: Being the Narrative of Mrs. Mary Ettie V. Smith, Late of Great Salt Lake City; a Sister of One of the Mormon High Priests, She Having Been Personally Acquainted with Most of the Mormon Leaders, and Long in the Confidence of The "Prophet," Brigham Young (New York: H. Dayton, Publishers, 1860 [1858]), 34-35.
  82. Compton, "Fawn Brodie on Joseph Smith's Plural Wives," 166.
  83. Green, Fifteen Years Among the Mormons, 34-35.
  84. Mrs. T.B.H. [Fanny] Stenhouse, "Tell It All": The Story of a Life's Experience in Mormonism (Hartford, Conn.: A.D. Worthington & Company, 1875 [1874]), 618, the footnote confirms the identity of the author as Ettie V. Smith..
  85. Stenhouse, "Tell It All", x.
  86. Stenhouse, "Tell It All", xi-xii.
  87. Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy Vol. 1, 298.
  88. Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy Vol. 1, 298. Hales cites Joseph Smith III to Bro. E.C. Brand, 26 January 1894, 65}}
  89. Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy Vol. 1, 298.
  90. Wilhelm Wyl, Mormon Portraits Volume First: Joseph Smith the Prophet, His Family and Friends (Salt Lake City: Tribune Printing and Publishing Co., 1886), 57. Ann Eliza Young, Wife No. 19, or the Story of a Life in Bondage, Being a Complete Exposé of Mormonism, and Revealing the Sorrows, Sacrifices and Sufferings of Women in Polygamy (Hartford, Conn.: Custin, Gilman & Company, 1876), 66–67. Discussed in Bachman, "Mormon Practice of Polygamy," 140. Also in Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 34–35.
  91. Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 314–315.
  92. This bit of folklore is explored in Maureen Ursenbach Beecher et al., "Emma and Eliza and the Stairs," Brigham Young University Studies 22/ 1 (Fall 1982): 86–96}} RLDS author Richard Price also argues that the physical layout of the Mansion House makes the story as reported by Charles C. Rich unlikely, in "Eliza Snow Was Not Pushed Down the Mansion House Stairs," in Richard Price. "Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy: How Men Nearest the Prophet Attached Polygamy to His Name in Order to Justify Their Own Polygamous Crimes." (n.p.: Price Publishing Company, 2001), chapter 9 <http://restorationbookstore.org/jsfp-index.htm > Price's dogmatic insistence that Joseph never taught plural marriage, however, cannot be sustained by the evidence.
  93. See discussion in Bachman, "Mormon Practice of Polygamy," 140n73.
  94. Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, 2nd edition, (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 136.
  95. See, for example, Eliza R. Snow, Woman's Exponent 8 (1 November 1879): 85: "So far as Sister Emma personally is concerned, I would gladly have been silent and let her memory rest in peace, had not her misguided son, through a sinister policy, branded her name with gross wickedness [by quoting her as denying plural marriage]."
  96. R. Scott Lloyd, ""Joseph Smith apparently was not Josephine Lyon's father, Mormon History Association speaker says," Deseret News (13 June 2016)
  97. Brian and Laura Hales, "Sylvia Sessions," josephsmithspolygamy.org off-site
  98. Andrew Jenson Papers, MS 17956, CHL, box 49, folder 16.
  99. Brian and Laura Hales, "Sylvia Sessions," Note 28 josephsmithspolygamy.org off-site
  100. This type of error is not new in later anti-Mormon documents. An 1884 document claiming to be by Sarah Pratt (who was by then antagonistic to the Church) describes her as the wife of "Orson Hyde," rather than "Orson Pratt." This error is corrected three times, but the error stands in three other cases. See discussion in Brian C. Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy Volume 1: History (Salt Lake City, Utah: Greg Kofford Books, 2013), 577. The document cited is [Anonymous], "Workings of Mormonism Related By Mrs. Orson Pratt," typescript of holograph, MS 4048, LDS Church History Library. Sarah Pratt's role, if any, in creating the document is not known. (See Hales, 2:462).
  101. Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1945), 298–299, 308, 345. ( Index of claims ); Nelson Winch Green, Fifteen Years among the Mormons: Being the Narrative of Mrs. Mary Ettie V. Smith, Late of Great Salt Lake City; a Sister of One of the Mormon High Priests, She Having Been Personally Acquainted with Most of the Mormon Leaders, and Long in the Confidence of The "Prophet," Brigham Young (New York: H. Dayton, Publishers, 1860 [1858]), 34–35.; George D. Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy: "...but we called it celestial marriage" (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2008), 82. ( Index of claims , (Detailed book review))
  102. Stenhouse, "Tell It All", 618.
  103. Nelson Winch Green, Fifteen Years among the Mormons: Being the Narrative of Mrs. Mary Ettie V. Smith, Late of Great Salt Lake City; a Sister of One of the Mormon High Priests, She Having Been Personally Acquainted with Most of the Mormon Leaders, and Long in the Confidence of The "Prophet," Brigham Young (New York: H. Dayton, Publishers, 1860 [1858]), 34–35.
  104. Todd Compton, "Fawn Brodie on Joseph Smith's Plural Wives and Polygamy: A Critical View," in Reconsidering No Man Knows My History: Fawn M. Brodie and Joseph Smith in Retrospect, ed. Newell G. Bringhurst (Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press, 1996), 166.
  105. Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 670–673. ( Index of claims ) Compton, "Fawn Brodie on Joseph Smith's Plural Wives," 166–170.
  106. Presendia’s name is also spelled Presenda or Prescindia in contemporary documents. We here use the spelling adopted by her autobiography, also followed by Compton and G. D. Smith.
  107. Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1945), 301. Brodie includes the picture between 298–99. ( Index of claims ) that she wrote, "If Oliver Buell isn’t a Smith then I’m no Brimhall," which was her mother’s name.
  108. Citing Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 670, 673. ( Index of claims )
  109. See Clark V. Johnson, "Northern Missouri," in Historical Atlas of Mormonism, ed. S. Kent Brown, Donald Q. Cannon, and Richard H. Jackson (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994), 42.
  110. Compton, "Fawn Brodie on Joseph Smith's Plural Wives," 170.
  111. 111.0 111.1 111.2 Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957). Volume 3 link
  112. The following all fail to include Oliver Buell as a potential child of Joseph’s: Danel Bachman, "Mormon Practice of Polygamy," 137–38; Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy, 43–44 and 43 n. 43; Lawrence Foster, Religion and Sexuality (New York: Oxford University Press, 1984), 157–58; Gary James Bergera, "Identifying the Earliest Mormon Polygamists, 1841–44," Dialogue 38/3 (Fall 2005): 49–50 n. 115.
  113. Carrie A. Moore, "DNA tests rule out 2 as Smith descendants," Deseret Morning News, (10 November 2007), off-site (accessed 2 December 2008); Ugo A. Perego et al., "Resolving the Paternities of Oliver N. Buell and Mosiah L. Hancock through DNA," The John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 28 (2008): 128–36. For background information, see Ugo A. Perego and Scott R. Woodward, "Reconstructing the Y-Chromosome of Joseph Smith" (paper presented at the Mormon History Association Conference, 28 May 2005); Ugo A. Perego et al., "Reconstructing the Y-Chromosome of Joseph Smith Jr.: Genealogical Applications," Journal of Mormon History 32/2 (Summer 2005): 70–88.
  114. Elsewhere G. D. Smith actually uses an appeal to the fact that Brodie was persuaded by a tale as evidence! (p. 131).
  115. Green, Fifteen Years Among the Mormons, 34-35.
  116. Compton, "Fawn Brodie on Joseph Smith’s Plural Wives," 166.
  117. Green, Fifteen Years, 34–35.
  118. 118.0 118.1 118.2 Mrs. T.B.H. [Fanny] Stenhouse, "Tell It All": The Story of a Life's Experience in Mormonism (Hartford, Conn.: A.D. Worthington & Company, 1875 [1874]), The footnote confirms the identity of the author as Ettie V. Smith.
  119. See Bachman, "Plural marriage," 139; Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy, 43–44 and 43 n. 43; Lawrence Foster, Religion and Sexuality: The Shakers, the Mormons, and the Oneida Community (New York: Oxford University Press, 1984), 157–58; Compton, "Fawn Brodie on Joseph Smith’s Plural Wives," 167; Gary James Bergera, "Identifying the Earliest Mormon Polygamists, 1841–44," Dialogue 38/3 (Fall 2005): 49–50 n. 115.
  120. Brian C. Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy Volume 1: History (Salt Lake City, Utah: Greg Kofford Books, 2013), 298.
  121. Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 345, 464.
  122. Bachman, "Mormon Practice of Polygamy," 139.
  123. Compton points out that "It is striking that Marinda had no children while Orson was on his mission to Jerusalem [15 April 1840–7 December 1842], then became pregnant soon after Orson returned home. (He arrived in Nauvoo on December 7, 1842, and Marinda bore Orson Washington Hyde on November 9, 1843}}) – Compton, "Fawn Brodie on Joseph Smith's Plural Wives," 165.
  124. See, for example, Brigham Young, "I have a Few Times in My Life Undertaken to Preach to a Traveling Congregation, but My Sermons have been Very Short, and Far Between," (7 October 1866) from Brigham Young Addresses, 1865–1869, A Chronological Compilation of Known Addresses of the Prophet Brigham Young, edited by Elden J. Watson (Salt Lake City), Vol. 5; cited in The Essential Brigham Young, 187–191; Brigham Young, "Increase of the Saints Since Joseph Smith's Death, &c.," (24 August 1872) reported by David W. Evans, Journal of Discourses Vol. 15 (London: Latter-day Saint's Book Depot, 1873), 136}}
  125. Alma Allred, "Review of Todd Compton's In Sacred Loneliness," (6 December 1999) (no pages).
  126. JD 25:369. (19 Oct 1884). wiki
  127. Sherman was a close friend and devout follower of Joseph Smith. He was called as an apostle but died before learning of the appointment. See Lyndon W. Cook, "Lyman Sherman—Man of God, Would-Be Apostle," 121–24.
  128. Dean R. Zimmerman, I Knew the Prophets: An Analysis of the Letter of Benjamin F. Johnson to George F. Gibbs (Bountiful, Utah: Horizon, 1976), 37–38.
  129. Helen Mar Whitney, Plural Marriage as Taught by the Prophet Joseph: A Reply to Joseph Smith [III], Editor of the Lamoni Iowa "Herald," (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1882), 11; see also Jeni Broberg Holzapfel and Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, eds., A Woman’s View: Helen Mar Whitney’s Reminiscences of Early Church History (Provo, Utah: Bookcraft, 1992), 142–43. See also Joseph A. Kelting, "Affidavit," March 1, 1894, images 11–16a; see also Kelting, "Statement," Juvenile Instructor 29 (May 1, 1894): 289–90.
  130. Brian Hales, "Plural Marriage Teachings" <http://josephsmithspolygamy.org/theology/joseph-smiths-teachings/#back_ajs-fn-id_4-56> (accessed 18 December 2018)
  131. See vv. 34, 37–39, 52, 55, 61–65.
  132. See vv. 41–42, 61–63.
  133. Brigham Young, October 6, 1854 Journal of Discourses, 2:90. Important in Brigham Young’s comments is his observation that the "marriage relation," referring to eternal marriage, not exclusively plural marriage, comprises the "foundation for worlds … and for Gods."
  134. Brian Hales, "Plural Marriage Teachings" <http://josephsmithspolygamy.org/theology/joseph-smiths-teachings/#link_ajs-fn-id_16-56> (accessed 17 December 2018)
  135. Jim Bennett "A Faithful Reply to the CES Letter from a former CES Employee" <https://canonizer.com/files/reply.pdf> (accessed 30 December 2018)

Response to claim: 254 - "The daughter of Heber C. Kimball stated how Smith promised that if she would "take this step," it would insure the eternal salvation and exaltation of her father's household and kindred"

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

The authors claim,

In May 1843 the thirty-seven-year-old prophet of Mormonism convinced fifteen-year-old Helen Mar Kimball to be sealed as his plural wife. The daughter of Heber C. Kimball stated how Smith promised that if she would "take this step," it would insure the eternal salvation and exaltation of her father's household and kindred. Helen was led to believe that the relationship was more of a spiritual nature and claimed she would have never gone through with it had she known otherwise.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The spin: At this point in the authors' book, their sources are intermingled between Todd Compton and Richard Van Wagoner. While both books cover this same paragraph, the authors chose Van Wagoner's paragraph over Compton's entire chapter on the subject.The facts: This is likely because Van Wagoner provides no hint that the source of Helen's later claim of "would have never gone through with it" comes from an anti-Mormon writer whom Compton describes as displaying "extremism," "is suspect," "not credible," "unreliable," and to be "regarded with caution."[1]


Articles about Plural marriage
Doctrinal foundation of plural marriage
Introduction of plural marriage
Plural marriage in Utah
End of plural marriage

Helen Mar Kimball

Summary: Helen was nearly fifteen when her father urged her to be sealed to Joseph Smith



The age of Joseph Smith's wives.

Summary: How old were Joseph Smith's plural wives? As discussed below, this sealing was likely unconsummated.

Divine manifestations to plural wives and families

Summary: Many members who were taught about plural marriage were initially reluctant or appalled; many reported miraculous divine manifestations convincing them of the truth of the doctrine. Helen's parents were two such members.
The Prophet said...that it [plural marriage] would damn more than it would have because \so many/ unprincipled men would take advantage of it, but that did not prove that it was not a pure principle. If Joseph had had any impure desires he could have gratified them in the style of the world with less danger of his life or his character, than to do as he did. The Lord commanded him to teach & to practice that principle.

—Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, Letter to Mary Bond, n.d., 3-9 quoted in Brian Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy: History, Vol. 1, 26-27. off-site
∗       ∗       ∗
Presentism, at its worst, encourages a kind of moral complacency and self-congratulation. Interpreting the past in terms of present concerns usually leads us to find ourselves morally superior…Our forbears constantly fail to measure up to our present-day standards.[2]
—Lynn Hunt, President of American Historical Association
∗       ∗       ∗


What were the circumstances surrounding the sealing of Helen Mar Kimball to Joseph Smith?

Helen’s father, Heber C. Kimball, had the most active part in bringing Helen and Joseph together

Some points regarding the circumstances surrounding the sealing of Helen Mar Kimball to Joseph Smith[3]:

  • Helen never describes in her journal or later writings being alone with the Prophet even once without a chaperone. [4] References to intimate relations would not be expected. Yet, if the two spent time together as husband and wife, Helen might have made a passing reference to the interactions, but none are found.
  • Helen’s father, Heber C. Kimball, had the most active part in bringing Helen and Joseph together. Helen wrote: "He [her father—Heber C. Kimball] taught me the principle of Celestial marriage and having a great desire to be connected with the Prophet, Joseph, he offered me to him." [5] Richard Anderson explained: "Helen says several times that her father took the initiative to arrange the marriage and very possibly he did so with a view to committing her to the Prophet before her budding social life produced a choice or a proposal" from someone else. [6]
  • Joseph’s role was not completely passive because he was willing to teach Helen Mar and marry her after Heber introduced the idea. So this is a point where Joseph may be criticized. But it seems to be about the only one.

Brigham Young instructed polygamous men to wait to consummate their sealings to younger brides until they were at least eighteen

  • Helen’s sealing was presumably for both time and eternity, so this would eventually have become an actual marriage that included sexual relations. In Utah, Brigham Young instructed polygamous men to wait to consummate their sealings to younger brides until they were at least eighteen.[7] While it is impossible to document, it appears this policy began in Nauvoo with Joseph Smith.
  • Michael Marquardt surmised: "Helen Kimball’s sealing to Joseph Smith was a spiritual one unlike other wives who had sexual relations with the prophet."[8]
  • After her sealing, Helen wrote:

During the winter of 1843, there were plenty of parties and balls. … Some of the young gentlemen got up a series of dancing parties, to be held at the Mansion once a week. … I had to stay home, as my father had been warned by the Prophet to keep his daughter away from there, because of the blacklegs and certain ones of questionable character who attended there. … I felt quite sore over it, and thought it a very unkind act in father to allow [my brother] to go and enjoy the dance unrestrained with others of my companions, and fetter me down, for no girl loved dancing better than I did, and I really felt that it was too much to bear. It made the dull school still more dull, and like a wild bird I longer for the freedom that was denied me; and thought myself a much abused child, and that it was pardonable if I did murmur.[9]

Helen was not called to testify in the Temple Lot case, in which the Church was attempting to prove that Joseph had normal marital relations with some of his plural wives, even though she was available

Brian Hales observes:

In 1892, the RLDS Church led by Joseph Smith III sued the Church of Christ (Temple Lot),[10] disputing its claim to own the temple lot in Independence, Missouri. The Church of Christ (Temple Lot) held physical possession, and the RLDS Church took the official position that since it was the true successor of the church originally founded by Joseph Smith, it owned the property outright.[11]


Although the LDS Church was not a party to the suit, it provided support to the Church of Christ (Temple Lot). The issue was parsed this way: If the Church of Christ (Temple Lot) could prove that plural marriage was part of the original Church, then the RLDS Church was obviously not the true successor since it failed to practice such a key doctrine.[12]

During the proceedings, three plural wives of Joseph Smith (Lucy Walker, Emily Partridge, and Malissa Lott) were deposed.[13]

Why was Helen Kimball Whitney not also called to testify in the Temple Lot trial regarding her marriage relations with Joseph Smith? She lived in Salt Lake City, geographically much closer than two of the three witnesses: Malissa Lott live thirty miles south in Lehi, and Lucy Walker lived eighty-two miles north in Logan.

A likely reason is that Helen could not provide the needed testimony. All three of Joseph Smith’s wives who did testify affirmed that sexual relations were part of their plural marriages to the Prophet.[14] Testifying of either an unconsummated time-and-eternity sealing or an eternity-only marriage would have hurt the Temple Lot case. Such marriages would have been easily dismissed as unimportant.

If Helen’s plural union did not include conjugality, her testimony would not have been helpful. If it did, the reason for not inviting her to testify is not obvious. Not only was Helen passed over, but Mary Elizabeth Lightner, Zina Huntington, and Patty Sessions, who were sealed to Joseph in eternity-only marriages, were similarly not deposed.

The lack of evidence does not prove the lack of sexual relations, but these observations are consistent with an unconsummated union.

Helen became an advocate of plural marriage and vigorously defended it

  • Helen wrote more about plural marriage than any other female author in the nineteenth century, defending it and Joseph Smith. Included were two books, Plural Marriage as Taught by the Prophet Joseph: A Reply to Joseph Smith, Editor of the Lamoni Iowa "Herald" (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1882) and her second, Why We Practice Plural Marriage (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1840).
  • People may claim Helen was a victim of Joseph Smith and/or polygamy, but it is a claim she never made for herself. In 1881 Helen penned her feelings toward her sealing to the Prophet:
I am thankful that He [Heavenly Father] has brought me through the furnace of affliction and that He has condescended to show me that the promises made to me the morning that I was sealed to the Prophet of God will not fail and I would not have the chain broken for I have had a view of the principle of eternal salvation and the perfect union which this sealing power will bring to the human family and with the help of our Heavenly Father I am determined to so live that I can claim those promises.[15]

Helen wrote a poem entitled "Reminiscences," which is often cited by critics

Later in life, Helen wrote a poem entitled "Reminiscences." It is often cited for the critics' claims:

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 dreems all o'er thou'rt doom'd alas 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. [p. 2]
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.[16]

The first portion of the poem expresses the youthful Helen's attitude. She is distressed mostly because of the loss of socialization and youthful ideas about romance. But, as Helen was later to explain more clearly in prose, she would soon realize that her youthful pout was uncalled for—she saw that her plural marriage had, in fact, protected her. "I have long since learned to leave all with Him, who knoweth better than ourselves what will make us happy," she noted after the poem.[17]

Helen was disappointed that she was not permitted to attend a party or a dance

Thus, she would later write of her youthful disappointment in not being permitted to attend a party or dance:

During the winter of 1843, there were plenty of parties and balls. … Some of the young gentlemen got up a series of dancing parties, to be held at the Mansion once a week. … I had to stay home, as my father had been warned by the Prophet to keep his daughter away from there, because of the blacklegs and certain ones of questionable character who attended there. … I felt quite sore over it, and thought it a very unkind act in father to allow [my brother] to go and enjoy the dance unrestrained with others of my companions, and fetter me down, for no girl loved dancing better than I did, and I really felt that it was too much to bear. It made the dull school still more dull, and like a wild bird I longed for the freedom that was denied me; and thought myself a much abused child, and that it was pardonable if I did murmur.

I imagined that my happiness was all over and brooded over the sad memories of sweet departed joys and all manner of future woes, which (by the by) were of short duration, my bump of hope being too large to admit of my remaining long under the clouds. Besides my father was very kind and indulgent in other ways, and always took me with him when mother could not go, and it was not a very long time before I became satisfied that I was blessed in being under the control of so good and wise a parent who had taken counsel and thus saved me from evils, which some others in their youth and inexperience were exposed to though they thought no evil. Yet the busy tongue of scandal did not spare them. A moral may be drawn from this truthful story. "Children obey thy parents," etc. And also, "Have regard to thy name, for that shall continue with you above a thousand great treasures of gold." "A good life hath but few days; but a good name endureth forever.[18]

So, despite her youthful reaction, Helen uses this as an illustration of how she was being a bit immature and upset, and how she ought to have trusted her parents, and that she was actually protected from problems that arose from the parties she missed.

Did Helen Mar Kimball "confess" to having marital relations with Joseph?

Helen allegedly said "I would never have been sealed to Joseph had I known it was anything more than ceremony"

Critics of the Church provide a supposed "confession" from Helen, in which she reportedly said:

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.[19]

The source of the statement is "suspect"

Author Todd Compton properly characterizes this source, noting that it is an anti-Mormon work, and calls its extreme language "suspect."[20]

Author George D. Smith tells his readers only that this is Helen "confiding," while doing nothing to reveal the statement's provenance from a hostile source.[21] Newell and Avery tell us nothing of the nature of this source and call it only a "statement" in the Stanley Ivins Collection;[22] Van Wagoner mirrors G. D. Smith by disingenuously writing that "Helen confided [this information] to a close Nauvoo friend," without revealing its anti-Mormon origins.[23]

In order for this story to be true, Helen would be telling a story at variance with all other things that she wrote

To credit this story at face value, one must also admit that Helen told others in Nauvoo about the marriage (something she repeatedly emphasized she was not to do) and that she told a story at variance with all the others from her pen during a lifetime of staunch defense of plural marriage.[24]

If we accept the statement as valid, we may interpret it in other ways than conjugality.

As Brian Hales writes:

It is clear that Helen’s sealing to Joseph Smith prevented her from socializing as an unmarried lady. The primary document referring to the relationship is an 1881 poem penned by Helen that has been interpreted in different ways ...

After leaving the church, dissenter Catherine Lewis reported Helen saying: "I would never have been sealed to Joseph had I known it was anything more than a ceremony."

Assuming this statement was accurate, which is not certain, the question arises regarding her meaning of "more than a ceremony"? While sexuality is a possibility, a more likely interpretation is that the ceremony prevented her from associating with her friends as an unmarried teenager, causing her dramatic distress after the sealing.[25]

Was Helen Mar Kimball's marriage to Joseph Smith ever consummated?

Critics generally do not reveal that their sources have concluded that Helen's marriage to Joseph Smith was never consummated

Critics generally do not reveal that their sources have concluded that Helen's marriage to Joseph Smith was unconsummated, preferring instead to point out that mere fact of the marriage of a 14-year-old girl to a 37-year-old man ought to be evidence enough to imply sexual relations and "pedophilia." For example, George D. Smith quotes Compton without disclosing his view,[26] cites Compton, but ignores that Compton argues that " there is absolutely no evidence that there was any sexuality in the marriage, and I suggest that, following later practice in Utah, there may have been no sexuality. All the evidence points to this marriage as a primarily dynastic marriage." [27] and Stanley Kimball without disclosing that he believed the marriage to be "unconsummated." [28]

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

What were Helen Mar Kimball's views on plural marriage?

Helen disliked plural marriage because of the difficulties it placed on her mother

Helen made clear what she disliked about plural marriage in Nauvoo, and it was not physical relations with an older man:

I had, in hours of temptation, when seeing the trials of my mother, felt to rebel. I hated polygamy in my heart, I had loved my baby more than my God, and mourned for it unreasonably….[29]

Helen is describing a period during the westward migration when (married monogamously) her first child died. Helen was upset by polygamy only because she saw the difficulties it placed on her mother. She is not complaining about her own experience with it.

Helen Mar Kimball: "I have encouraged and sustained my husband in the celestial order of marriage because I knew it was right"

Helen Mar Kimball:

All my sins and shortcomings were magnified before my eyes till I believed I had sinned beyond redemption. Some may call it the fruits of a diseased brain. There is nothing without a cause, be that as it may, it was a keen reality to me. During that season I lost my speech, forgot the names of everybody and everything, and was living in another sphere, learning lessons that would serve me in future times to keep me in the narrow way. I was left a poor wreck of what I had been, but the Devil with all his cunning, little thought that he was fitting and preparing my heart to fulfill its destiny….

[A]fter spending one of the happiest days of my life I was moved upon to talk to my mother. I knew her heart was weighed down in sorrow and I was full of the holy Ghost. I talked as I never did before, I was too weak to talk with such a voice (of my own strength), beside, I never before spoke with such eloquence, and she knew that it was not myself. She was so affected that she sobbed till I ceased. I assured her that father loved her, but he had a work to do, she must rise above her feelings and seek for the Holy Comforter, and though it rent her heart she must uphold him, for he in taking other wives had done it only in obedience to a holy principle. Much more I said, and when I ceased, she wiped her eyes and told me to rest. I had not felt tired till she said this, but commenced then to feel myself sinking away. I silently prayed to be renewed, when my strength returned that instant…

I have encouraged and sustained my husband in the celestial order of marriage because I knew it was right. At various times I have been healed by the washing and annointing, administered by the mothers in Israel. I am still spared to testify to the truth and Godliness of this work; and though my happiness once consisted in laboring for those I love, the Lord has seen fit to deprive me of bodily strength, and taught me to 'cast my bread upon the waters' and after many days my longing spirit was cheered with the knowledge that He had a work for me to do, and with Him, I know that all things are possible…[30]

Why would Joseph marry a young woman in her teens?

What is Presentism?

Imagine a school-child who asks why French knights didn't resist the English during the Battle of Agincourt (in 1415) using Sherman battle tanks. We might gently reply that there were no such tanks available. The child, a precocious sort, retorts that the French generals must have been incompetent, because everyone knows that tanks are necessary. The child has fallen into the trap of presentism—he has presumed that situations and circumstances in the past are always the same as the present. Clearly, there were no Sherman tanks available in 1415; we cannot in fairness criticize the French for not using something which was unavailable and unimagined.

Spotting such anachronistic examples of presentism is relatively simple. The more difficult problems involve issues of culture, behavior, and attitude. For example, it seems perfectly obvious to most twenty-first century North Americans that discrimination on the basis of race is wrong. We might judge a modern, racist politician quite harshly. We risk presentism, however, if we presume that all past politicians and citizens should have recognized racism, and fought it. In fact, for the vast majority of history, racism has almost always been present. Virtually all historical figures are, by modern standards, racists. To identify George Washington or Thomas Jefferson as racists, and to judge them as moral failures, is to be guilty of presentism.

A caution against presentism is not to claim that no moral judgments are possible about historical events, or that it does not matter whether we are racists or not. Washington and Jefferson were born into a culture where society, law, and practice had institutionalized racism. For them even to perceive racism as a problem would have required that they lift themselves out of their historical time and place. Like fish surrounded by water, racism was so prevalent and pervasive that to even imagine a world without it would have been extraordinarily difficult. We will not properly understand Washington and Jefferson, and their choices, if we simply condemn them for violating modern standards of which no one in their era was aware.

A textbook example of presentist history is the claim that Joseph engaged in "statuatory rape"

Condemning Joseph Smith for "statutory rape" is a textbook example of presentist history. "Rape," of course, is a crime in which the victim is forced into sexual behavior against her (or his) will. Such behavior has been widely condemned in ancient and modern societies. Like murder or theft, it arguably violates the moral conscience of any normal individual. It was certainly a crime in Joseph Smith's day, and if Joseph was guilty of forced sexual intercourse, it would be appropriate to condemn him.

(Despite what some claim, not all marriages or sealings were consummated, as in Helen's case discussed above.)

"Statutory rape," however, is a completely different matter. Statutory rape is sexual intercourse with a victim that is deemed too young to provide legal consent--it is rape under the "statute," or criminal laws of the nation. Thus, a twenty-year-old woman who chooses to have sex has not been raped. Our society has concluded, however, that a ten-year-old child does not have the physical, sexual, or emotional maturity to truly understand the decision to become sexually active. Even if a ten-year-old agrees to sexual intercourse with a twenty-year-old male, the male is guilty of "statutory rape." The child's consent does not excuse the adult's behavior, because the adult should have known that sex with a minor child is illegal.

Even in the modern United States, statutory rape laws vary by state. A twenty-year-old who has consensual sex with a sixteen-year-old in Alabama would have nothing to fear; moving to California would make him guilty of statutory rape even if his partner was seventeen.

By analogy, Joseph Smith likely owned a firearm for which he did not have a license--this is hardly surprising, since no law required guns to be registered on the frontier in 1840. It would be ridiculous for Hitchens to complain that Joseph "carried an unregistered firearm." While it is certainly true that Joseph's gun was unregistered, this tells us very little about whether Joseph was a good or bad man. The key question, then, is not "Would Joseph Smith's actions be illegal today?" Only a bigot would condemn someone for violating a law that had not been made.

Rather, the question should be, "Did Joseph violate the laws of the society in which he lived?" If Joseph did not break the law, then we might go on to ask, "Did his behavior, despite not being illegal, violate the common norms of conscience or humanity?" For example, even if murder was not illegal in Illinois, if Joseph repeatedly murdered, we might well question his morality.

Does the case of Helen mean Joseph was a "pedophile"?

"Pedophilia" applies to children; Helen was regarded as a mature young woman

Helen specifically mentioned that she was regarded as mature.[31] 'Pedophilia' is an inflammatory charge that refers to a sexual attraction to pre-pubertal children. It simply does not apply in the present case, even if the relationship had been consummated.

It is claimed by critics that the average age of menarche in 1840 was 16.4 years and that therefore Helen Mar Kimball was prepubescent when she was sealed to Joseph Smith at age 14

Critics of Mormonism claim that Helen Mar Kimball was prepubescent at the time that she was sealed to Joseph Smith, and that this is therefore evidence that Joseph was a pedophile. Pedophila describes a sexual attraction to prepubescent children. However, there is no evidence that Helen ever cohabited with or had sexual relations with Joseph. In fact, she continued to live with her parents after the sealing.

The use of the term "pedophilia" by critics in this situation is intended to generate a negative emotional response in the reader. Pedophiles don't advertise their obsession and they certainly don't discuss marriages with the parents of their intended victims. It was Heber C. Kimball that requested that this sealing be performed, not Joseph. There is no evidence that Joseph was a pedophile.

The age of menarche in America in 1840 has a normal distribution close to a mean of 15.2 years and a standard deviation of 1.85

European data indicates a long term linear drop, while US data is much more sparse. Using post-1910 data, Wyshak (1983) determined that the average age at menarche was dropping linearly at 3.2 month/decade with a value of 13.1 in 1920. This trend projects to 15.2 in 1840 and 16.3 in 1800. The onset of menarche follows a normal distribution that had a larger spread in the 19th century (σ≈1.7 to 2.0) in Brown (1966) and Laslett (1977).[32]

Helen Mar Kimball was likely married near the end of the month of May in 1843 and was thus approximately 14.8 years old when she was sealed to Joseph Smith. With only the statistics cited above we can conclude that 40% of the young women her age would have already matured and thus in their society be considered marriage eligible. If 40% is taken as an a priori probability, additional information puts maturity at her first marriage beyond a reasonable doubt using Bayesian methodology.

Helen and her contemporaries considered her mature for her age

Helen remembered transitioning from childhood to adulthood over a year before her first marriage as she attended social functions with older teens. Here is quote on the abruptness of this transition in the past from a graduate course's textbook on child development:

In industrial societies, as we have mentioned, the concept of adolescence as a period of development is quite recent. Until the early twentieth century, young people were considered children until they left school (often well before age 13), married or got a job, and entered the adult world. By the 1920s, with the establishment of comprehensive high schools to meet the needs of a growing economy and with more families able to support extended formal education for their children, the teenage years had become a distinct period of development (Keller, 1999). In some preindustrial societies, the concept of adolescence still does not exist. The Chippewa, for example, have only two periods of childhood: from birth until the child walks, and from walking to puberty. What we call adolescence is, for them, part of adulthood (Broude, 1995), as was true in societies before industrialization.[33]

Helen recalls that by March 1842, she "had grown up very fast and my father often took me out with him and for this reason was taken to be older than I was." At these social gatherings, she developed a crush on her future husband Horace Whitney. She later married him after Joseph Smith's martyrdom and her 16th birthday and had 12 children with him.

According to Helen:

Sarah Ann's brother, Horace, who was twenty months her senior, made one of the party but had never dreamed of such a thing as matrimony with me, whom he only remembered in the earliest school days in Kirtland as occupying one of the lowest seats. He becoming enough advanced, soon left the one taught in the red schoolhouse on the flat and attended a higher one on the hill, and through our moving to Missouri and Illinois we lost sight of each other. After the party was over I stopped the rest of the night with Sarah, and as her room and his were adjoining, being only separated by a partition, our talk seemed to disturb him, and he was impolite enough to tell us of it, and request us to stop and let him go to sleep, which was proof enough that he had never thought of me only as the green school girl that I was, or he would certainly have submitted gracefully (as lovers always should) to be made a martyr of.[34]

Evidence supports that Mormon teens did not marry until they had reached maturity.

Scholars that study fertility often divide large samples into cohorts which are 5 years wide based on birth year or marriage age . In contrast to what some critics claim, the marriage cohort of 15-19 year olds has been shown at times to be more fertile than the 20-24 cohort. The authors of one study found that "Unlike most other reported natural-fertility populations, period fertility rates for married Mormon women aged 15-19 are higher between 1870 and 1894 than those for married women in their 20s. Women aged 15-19 in 1870-74 would have been born in the 1850s when 55.8 percent were married before their 20th birthday; thus, this cannot be treated as an insignificant group." And also "In addition, the median interval between marriage and birth of the first child is consistently about one year for all age-at-marriage groups."[35] Another study disproved that younger marital age (15-19) resulted in a higher infant mortality rate due to the mother not being fully mature (termed the "biological-insufficiency hypothesis.").[36]

Helen continued to live with her parents after the sealing, and then married someone else and had children with them after Joseph's death

Helen continued to live with her parents after the sealing. After Joseph's death, Helen was married and had children.

Unlike today, it was acceptable to be sealed to one person for eternity while being married for time to another person. It is not known if this was the case with Helen, however.

Four Key Questions

We must, then, address four questions:

  1. What were the ages of Joseph's wives?
  2. Did Joseph have sexual intercourse with these women? If not, then the issue of statutory rape is moot. If so, we have not proven statutory rape, but can move on to the next question.
  3. What were the statutory rape laws of the time, and did Joseph violate them?
  4. If Joseph was not guilty of statutory rape, did he nevertheless violate common norms of conscience or society?

1. The Age of Joseph's Wives

Even LDS authors are not immune from presentist fallacies: Todd Compton, convinced that plural marriage was a tragic mistake, "strongly disapprove[s] of polygamous marriages involving teenage women." [37] This would include, presumably, those marriages which Joseph insisted were commanded by God. Compton notes, with some disapproval, that a third of Joseph's wives were under twenty years of age. The modern reader may be shocked. We must beware, however, of presentism—is it that unusual that a third of Joseph's wives would have been teenagers?

When we study others in Joseph's environment, we find that it was not. A sample of 201 Nauvoo-era civil marriages found that 33.3% were under twenty, with one bride as young as twelve. [38] Another sample of 127 Kirtland marriages found that nearly half (49.6%) were under twenty. [39] And, a computer-aided study of LDS marriages found that from 1835–1845, 42.3% of women were married before age twenty. [40] The only surprising thing about Joseph's one third is that more of his marriage partners were not younger.

Furthermore, this pattern does not seem to be confined to the Mormons (see Chart 12 1). A 1% sample from the 1850 U.S. census found 989 men and 962 who had been married in the last year. Teens made up 36.0% of married women, and only 2.3% of men; the average age of marriage was 22.5 for women and 27.8 for men. [41] Even when the men in Joseph's age range (34–38 years) in the U.S. Census are extracted, Joseph still has a lower percentage of younger wives and more older wives than non-members half a decade later. [42]

Chart 12-1 Chart 12-1.png

I suspect that Compton goes out of his way to inflate the number of young wives, since he lumps everyone between "14 to 20 years old" together. [43] It is not clear why this age range should be chosen—women eighteen or older are adults even by modern standards.

A more useful breakdown by age is found in Table 12-1. Rather than lumping all wives younger than twenty-one together (a third of all the wives), our analysis shows that only a fifth of the wives would be under eighteen. These are the only women at risk of statutory rape issues even in the modern era.

Table 12-1: Ages of Joseph's Wives [44]
Age range Percent (n=33)
14-17 21.2%
18-19 9.1%
20-29 27.3%
30-39 27.3%
40-49 3.0%
50-59 12.1%

2. Were there marital relations?

As shown elsewhere, the data for sexual relations in Joseph's plural marriages are quite scant (see Chapter 10—not online). For the purposes of evaluating "statutory rape" charges, only a few relationships are relevant.

The most prominent is, of course, Helen Mar Kimball, who was the prophet's youngest wife, married three months prior to her 15th birthday. [45] As we have seen, Todd Compton's treatment is somewhat confused, but he clarifies his stance and writes that "[a]ll the evidence points to this marriage as a primarily dynastic marriage." [46] Other historians have also concluded that Helen's marriage to Joseph was unconsummated. [47]

Nancy M. Winchester was married at age fourteen or fifteen, but we know nothing else of her relationship with Joseph. [48]

Flora Ann Woodruff was also sixteen at her marriage, and "[a]n important motivation" seems to have been "the creation of a bond between" Flora's family and Joseph. [49] We know nothing of the presence or absence of marital intimacy.

Fanny Alger would have been sixteen if Compton's date for the marriage is accepted. Given that I favor a later date for her marriage, this would make her eighteen. In either case, we have already seen how little reliable information is available for this marriage (see Chapter 4—not online), though on balance it was probably consummated.

Sarah Ann Whitney, Lucy Walker, and Sarah Lawrence were each seventeen at the time of their marriage. Here at last we have reliable evidence of intimacy, since Lucy Walker suggested that the Lawrence sisters had consummated their marriage with Joseph. Intimacy in Joseph's marriages may have been more rare than many have assumed—Walker's testimony suggested marital relations with the Partridge and Lawrence sisters, but said nothing about intimacy in her own marriage (see Chapter 10—not online).

Sarah Ann Whitney's marriage had heavy dynastic overtones, binding Joseph to faithful Bishop Orson F. Whitney. We know nothing of a sexual dimension, though Compton presumes that one is implied by references to the couple's "posterity" and "rights" of marriage in the sealing ceremony. [50] This is certainly plausible, though the doctrine of adoption and Joseph's possible desire to establish a pattern for all marriages/sealings might caution us against assuming too much.

Of Joseph's seven under-eighteen wives, then, only one (Lawrence) has even second-hand evidence of intimacy. Fanny Alger has third-hand hostile accounts of intimacy, and we know nothing about most of the others. Lucy Walker and Helen Mar Kimball seem unlikely candidates for consummation.

The evidence simply does not support Christopher Hitchens' wild claim, since there is scant evidence for sexuality in the majority of Joseph's marriages. Many presume that Joseph practiced polygamy to satisfy sexual longings, and with a leer suggest that of course Joseph would have consummated these relationships, since that was the whole point. Such reasoning is circular, and condemns Joseph's motives and actions before the evidence is heard.

Even were we to conclude that Joseph consummated each of his marriages—a claim nowhere sustained by the evidence—this would not prove that he acted improperly, or was guilty of "statutory rape." This requires an examination into the legal climate of his era.

3. Statutory Rape and the Law

The very concept of a fifteen- or seventeen-year-old suffering statutory rape in the 1840s is flagrant presentism. The age of consent under English common law was ten. American law did not raise the age of consent until the late nineteenth century, and in Joseph Smith's day only a few states had raised it to twelve. Delaware, meanwhile, lowered the age of consent to seven. [51]

In our time, legal minors can often be married before the age of consent with parental approval. Joseph certainly sought and received the approval of parents or male guardians for his marriages to Fanny Alger, Sarah Ann Whitney, Lucy Walker, and Helen Kimball. [52] His habit of approaching male relatives on this issue might suggest that permission was gained for other marriages about which we know less.

Clearly, then, Hitchens' attack is hopelessly presentist. None of Joseph's brides was near ten or twelve. And even if his wives' ages had presented legal risks, he often had parental sanction for the match.

4. Did Joseph violate societal norms?

There can be no doubt that the practice of polygamy was deeply offensive to monogamous, Victorian America. As everything from the Nauvoo Expositor to the latest anti-Mormon tract shows, the Saints were continually attacked for their plural marriages.

If we set aside the issue of plurality, however, the only issue which remains is whether it would have been considered bizarre, improper, or scandalous for a man in his mid-thirties to marry a woman in her mid- to late-teens. Clearly, Joseph's marriage to teen-age women was entirely normal for Mormons of his era. The sole remaining question is, were all these teen-age women marrying men their own age, or was marriage to older husbands also considered proper?

To my knowledge, the issue of age disparity was not a charge raised by critics in Joseph's day. It is difficult to prove a negative, but the absence of much comment on this point is probably best explained by the fact that plural marriage was scandalous, but marriages with teenage women were, if not the norm, at least not uncommon enough to occasion comment. For example, to disguise the practice of plural marriage, Joseph had eighteen-year-old Sarah Whitney pretend to marry Joseph Kingsbury, who was days away from thirty-one. [53] If this age gap would have occasioned comment, Joseph Smith would not have used Kingsbury as a decoy.

One hundred and eighty Nauvoo-era civil marriages have husbands and wives with known ages and marriage dates. [54] Chart 12 2 demonstrates that these marriages follow the general pattern of wives being younger than husbands.

Chart 12-2

Chart 12-2.png

When the age of husband is plotted against the age of each wife, it becomes clear that almost all brides younger than twenty married men between five and twenty years older (see Chart 12-3).

Chart 12-3

Chart 12-3.png

This same pattern appears in 879 marriages from the 1850 U.S. Census (see Chart 12 4). Non-Mormon age differences easily exceeded Joseph's except for age fourteen. We should not make too much of this, since the sample size is very small (one or two cases for Joseph; three for the census) and dynastic motives likely played a large role in Joseph's choice, as discussed above.

Chart 12-4 Chart 12-4.png

In short, Mormon civil marriage patterns likely mimicked those of their gentile neighbors. Neither Mormons or their critics would have found broad age differences to be an impediment to conjugal marriage. In fact, the age difference between wives and their husbands was greatest in the teen years, and decreased steadily until around Joseph's age, between 30–40 years, when the spread between spouses' ages was narrowest (note the bright pink bars in Chart 12-5).

Chart 12-5

Chart 12-5.png

As Thomas Hine, a non-LDS scholar of adolescence noted:

Until the twentieth century, adult expectations of young people were determined not by age but by size. If a fourteen-year-old looked big and strong enough to do a man's work on a farm or in a factory or mine, most people viewed him as a man. And if a sixteen-year-old was slower to develop and couldn't perform as a man, he wasn't one. For, young women, the issue was much the same. To be marriageable was the same as being read for motherhood, which was determined by physical development, not age....
The important thing, though, was that the maturity of each young person was judged individually. [55]

Why the modern world is different

Why did pre-modern peoples see nothing wrong with teen marriages? Part of the explanation likely lies in the fact that life-expectancy was greatly reduced compared to our time (see Table 12 2).

Table 12-2—Life Expectancy in the United States
Group Life Expect in 1850 (years) [56] Life Expect in 1901 (years) [57] Life Expect in 2004 (years) [58]
Males at birth 38.3 47.9 75.7
Males at age 20 60.1 62.0 76.6
Females at birth 40.5 50.7 80.8
Females at age 20 60.2 63.6 81.5

The modern era has also seen the "extension" of childhood, as many more years are spent in schooling and preparation for adult work. In the 1840s, these issues simply weren't in play for women—men needed to be able to provide for their future family, and often had the duties of apprenticeship which prevented early marriage. Virtually everything a woman needed to know about housekeeping and childrearing, however, was taught in the home. It is not surprising, then, that parents in the 1840s considered their teens capable of functioning as married adults, while parents in 2007 know that marriages for young teens will usually founder on issues of immaturity, under-employment, and lack of education.

Learn more about polygamy and marriage to young women
Key sources
  • Craig L. Foster, David Keller, and Gregory L. Smith, “The Age of Joseph Smith’s Plural Wives in Social and Demographic Context,” in The Persistence of Polygamy, eds. Newell G. Bringhurst and Craig L. Foster (Independence, MO: John Whitmer Books, 2010), 152–83.
Wiki links
Online
  • "Joseph Smith and Fanny Alger," BH Roberts Foundation print-link.
Navigators


Notes

  1. Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 15-23.
  2. Lynn Hunt, "Against Presentism," (President's Column) Perspectives 40/5 (May 2002).
  3. This material was provided courtesy of Brian and Laura Hales.
  4. See Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, Plural Marriage as Taught by the Prophet Joseph: A Reply to Joseph Smith, Editor of the Lamoni Iowa "Herald" (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1882); Why We Practice Plural Marriage (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1840). Helen also kept a detailed journal throughout much of her life. See Charles M.Hatch and Todd M. Compton, eds., A Widow’s Tale: The 1884-1896 Diary of Helen Mar Kimball Whitney (Logan, UT: Utah State University Press, 2003).
  5. Typescript and copy of holograph reproduced in Jeni Broberg Holzapfel and Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, eds., A Woman’s View: Helen Mar Whitney’s Reminiscences of Early Church History (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1997), 482–87.
  6. Richard L. Anderson to Dawn Comfort, May 9–15, 1998, copy of letter in Scott H. Faulring Papers, box 93, fds 1–3, (accn 2316), Marriott Library.
  7. See discussion in Eugene E. Campbell, Establishing Zion: The Mormon Church in the American West 1847-1869 (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1988), 198n5.
  8. Michael Marquardt, The Rise of Mormonism: 1816–1844 (Longwood, FL: Xulon Press, 2005), 609.
  9. Woman’s Exponent 11, no. 12, November 15, 1882, 90; see Holzapfel and Holzapfel, eds., A Woman’s View, 224.
  10. Known colloquially as “Hedrickites” after Granville Hedrick, who was ordained the church’s first leader in 1863. They prefer the title of “Church of Christ (Temple Lot).”
  11. S. Patrick Baggette II, “The Temple Lot Case: Fraud in God’s Vineyard,” 136.
  12. The Church of Christ (Temple Lot) were staunchly opposed to plural marriage and seemed to have pursued polygamy as a line of inquiry only for strategic purposes. See R. Jean Addams, “The Church of Christ (Temple Lot) and the Reorganized Church of Latter Day Saints: 130 Years of Crossroads and Controversies,” Journal of Mormon History 36, no. 2 (2010): 29–53.
  13. The Temple Lot case transcript, as it is popularly known, comprises more than 1,700 pages. It can be accessed at https://archive.org/details/TempleLotCaseTranscript.
  14. Malissa Lott, Deposition, Temple Lot Transcript, Respondent’s Testimony, part 3, page 105, question 227; Lucy Walker, Deposition, Temple Lot Transcript, Respondent’s Testimony, part 3, pages 450–51, 468, 473, questions 29–30, 463–74, 586.
  15. Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, "Autobiography, 30 March 1881," MS 744, CHL. Typescript and copy of holograph reproduced in Holzapfel and Holzapfel, A Woman’s View, 482–87.
  16. "Helen Mar Kimball Whitney 1881 Autobiography," Appendix I in Helen Mar Whitney, A Woman's View: Helen Mar Whitney's Reminiscences of Early Church History, ed. Jeni Broberg Holzapfel and Richard Neitzel Holzapfel (Provo, Utah / Salt Lake City, Utah: BYU Religious Studies Center, distributed by Bookcraft, 1997), 486.
  17. Helen Mar Whitney, A Woman's View: Helen Mar Whitney's Reminiscences of Early Church History, ed. Jeni Broberg Holzapfel and Richard Neitzel Holzapfel (Provo, Utah / Salt Lake City, Utah: BYU Religious Studies Center, distributed by Bookcraft, 1997), 486–487.
  18. Helen Mar Whitney, Scenes and Incidents, 90. (italics added)
  19. Catherine Lewis, Narrative of Some of the Proceedings of the Mormons (Lynn, MA: n.p., 1848), 19.
  20. Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 195. ( Index of claims )
  21. George D. Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy: "...but we called it celestial marriage" (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2008), 202. ( Index of claims , (Detailed book review))
  22. Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, 2nd edition, (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 147.
  23. Richard S. Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 2005), 293. (Reviews)
  24. On Helen’s authentic statements, see Helen Mar Whitney, A Woman’s View: Helen Mar Whitney’s Reminiscences of Early Church History, ed. Jeni Broberg Holzapfel and Richard Neitzel Holzapfel (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1997), ix–xliii.
  25. See "Helen Mar Kimball" at http://josephsmithspolygamy.org/plural-wives-overview/helen-mar-kimball/
  26. George D. Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy
  27. Todd M. Compton, "Response to Tanners," post to LDS Bookshelf mailing list (no date), http://www.lds-mormon.com/compton.shtml (accessed 2 December 2008). Compare with Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy, 198–202, 302, 362 and Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 14.)
  28. Stanley B. Kimball, Heber C. Kimball: Mormon Patriarch and Pioneer (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1981), 98. See also Stanley B. Kimball, "Heber C. Kimball and Family, the Nauvoo Years," Brigham Young University Studies 15/4 (Summer 1975): 465.
  29. Augusta Joyce Crocheron (author and complier), Representative Women of Deseret, a book of biographical sketches to accompany the picture bearing the same title (Salt Lake City: J. C. Graham & Co., 1884).
  30. Augusta Joyce Crocheron (author and complier), Representative Women of Deseret, a book of biographical sketches to accompany the picture bearing the same title (Salt Lake City: J. C. Graham & Co., 1884).
  31. [citation needed]
  32. Craig L. Foster, David Keller, and Gregory L. Smith, “The Age of Joseph Smith’s Plural Wives in Social and Demographic Context,” in The Persistence of Polygamy, eds. Newell G. Bringhurst and Craig L. Foster (Independence, MO: John Whitmer Books, 2010), 152–83. The authors cite Grace Wyshak "Secular changes in age at menarche in a sample of US women," Annals of Human Biology 10:1 (1983): 75–77; P. E. Brown, “The Age at Menarche,” British Journal of Preventive and Social Medicine 20 (1966): 9–14; and Peter Laslett, Family life and Illicit Love in Earlier Generations (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1977).
  33. Diane Papalia, Gabriela Martorell, and R. Feldman, In A Child's World: Infancy through Adolescence, 13th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 2014).
  34. Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, 1828-1896, Autobiography (c. 1839-1846), "Life Incidents," Woman's Exponent 9-10 (1880-1882) and "Scenes and Incidents in Nauvoo," Woman's Exponent 11 (1882-83)) off-site
  35. Mineau, G. P., L. L. Bean, and M. Skolnick 1979 “Mormon demographic history, II: The family life cycle and natural fertility,” Population Studies 33, 3:429–46.
  36. L. Bean, G. Mineau, and D. Anderton, "High-Risk Childbearing: Fertility and Infant Mortality on the American Frontier," Social Science History 16, no. 3 (1992): 337–63.
  37. Todd M. Compton, Response to Tanners, post to LDS Bookshelf mailing list, no date. (15 May 2005).
  38. Susan Easton Black, "Marriages in the Nauvoo Region 1839-1845," on-line database, using sources: Lyndon W. Cook, Civil Marriages in Nauvoo and some outlying areas (1839-1845) (Liberty Publishing Co., 1980); with additional data from Times and Seasons, The Wasp, Nauvoo Neighbor, and "A Record of Marriages in the City of Nauvoo," located at the Historical Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. <http://www.worldvitalrecords.com/indexinfo.aspx?ix=usa_il_nauvoo_marriages> I am indebted to David Keller, who performed the initial data extraction, and saved me hours of work by sharing his raw data files.
  39. Kirtland marriage data from Milton V. Backman, Jr. with Keith Perkins and Susan Easton, "A profile of Latter-day Saints of Kirtland, Ohio and members of Zion's Camp 1830–1839 : vital statistics and sources," complied in cooperation with the Department of Church History and Doctrine, Brigham Young University, in Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah. The indefatigable David Keller also provided me with this data.
  40. M. Skolnick, L. Bean, D. May, V. Arbon, K. De Nevers and P. Cartwright, "Mormon Demographic History I. Nuptiality and Fertility of Once-Married Couples," Populations Studies 32 (1978): 14, table 3. off-site I appreciate John Gee bringing this reference to my attention.
  41. Data from Steven Ruggles, Matthew Sobek, Trent Alexander, Catherine A. Fitch, Ronald Goeken, Patricia Kelly Hall, Miriam King, and Chad Ronnander, Integrated Public Use Microdata Series: Version 3.0 [Machine-readable database]. Minneapolis, MN: Minnesota Population Center [producer and distributor] (2004), accessed 14 July 2007. <http://usa.ipums.org/usa/> I'm grateful to David Keller for sharing the raw data with me.
  42. The U.S. Census data included marriages within the last year since the census, so some marriages could have occurred prior to the wife's recorded birthday. Presumably this effect would be equally distributed throughout the year—to adjust for this, the data was convolved via a moving average. This did not materially affect the data plots; see Appendix 1 for both versions of the Nauvoo data plotted. My thanks to David Keller for discussions and help with the statistics.
  43. Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 11. ( Index of claims )
  44. Despite debates about whether all these wives should be included, I have simply used the data from Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 4–7. ( Index of claims ) If a marriage date is uncertain, I have used the earliest possible age.
  45. B. Carmon Hardy, Works of Abraham, 48; Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 6.
  46. Todd M. Compton, Response to Tanners, post to LDS Bookshelf mailing list, no date. (Accessed 15 May 2005).
  47. See Stanley B. Kimball, "Heber C. Kimball and Family, the Nauvoo Years," Brigham Young University Studies 15/4 (Summer 1975): 465; see also Richard Lloyd Anderson and Scott H. Faulring, "The Prophet Joseph Smith and His Plural Wives (Review of In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith)," FARMS Review of Books 10/2 (1998): 67–104; citing Stanley B. Kimball, Heber C. Kimball: Mormon Patriarch and Pioneer (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1981), 98.
  48. Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 606.
  49. Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 390.
  50. Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 347–349.
  51. Melina McTigue, "Statutory Rape Law Reform in Nineteenth Century Maryland: An Analysis of Theory and Practical Change," (2002), (accessed 5 Feb 2005). < http://www.law.georgetown.edu/glh/mctigue.htm>
  52. Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 31–33, 347–349, 464, 497–502.
  53. Kingsbury was born 2 May 1812, and "married" Sarah Whitney on 29 April 1843.
  54. Of 883 married individuals, there were 219 men and 201 women with exact birth and marriage dates. Of these, 180 marriages were identified in which the husband and wife's birth date was known. I matched these couples for data analysis. Since it is not clear how many of these marriages were first marriages, these data represents a conservative estimate of teen-age marriage in Nauvoo in the early 1840s. If second marriages were excluded, there would likely be an even greater percentage of teen marriages. The data is again from Susan Easton Black, "Marriages in the Nauvoo Region 1839–1845," op. cit. as originally extracted by David Keller.
  55. Thomas Hine, The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager: A New History of the American Adolescent Experience (HarperCollins, 1999), 16.
  56. These data are from Massachusetts only; U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Historical Statistics of the United States, on-line at < http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0005140.html> (accessed 10 December 2007).
  57. James W. Glover, United States Life Tables: 1890, 1901, 1910, and 1901–1910 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, 1921), 56, 60, tables 3, 5; on-line at <http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/lifetables/life1890-1910.pdf > (accessed 10 December 2007).
  58. U.S. Center for Disease Control, National Vital Statistics Reports 55/19 (21 August 2007): 25–26, tables 7–8, < http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr55/nvsr55_19.pdf> (accessed 10 December 2007). The figures used are for whites.
Articles about Plural marriage
Doctrinal foundation of plural marriage
Introduction of plural marriage
Plural marriage in Utah
End of plural marriage

Helen Mar Kimball

Summary: Helen was nearly fifteen when her father urged her to be sealed to Joseph Smith



The age of Joseph Smith's wives.

Summary: How old were Joseph Smith's plural wives? As discussed below, this sealing was likely unconsummated.

Divine manifestations to plural wives and families

Summary: Many members who were taught about plural marriage were initially reluctant or appalled; many reported miraculous divine manifestations convincing them of the truth of the doctrine. Helen's parents were two such members.
The Prophet said...that it [plural marriage] would damn more than it would have because \so many/ unprincipled men would take advantage of it, but that did not prove that it was not a pure principle. If Joseph had had any impure desires he could have gratified them in the style of the world with less danger of his life or his character, than to do as he did. The Lord commanded him to teach & to practice that principle.

—Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, Letter to Mary Bond, n.d., 3-9 quoted in Brian Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy: History, Vol. 1, 26-27. off-site
∗       ∗       ∗
Presentism, at its worst, encourages a kind of moral complacency and self-congratulation. Interpreting the past in terms of present concerns usually leads us to find ourselves morally superior…Our forbears constantly fail to measure up to our present-day standards.[1]
—Lynn Hunt, President of American Historical Association
∗       ∗       ∗


What were the circumstances surrounding the sealing of Helen Mar Kimball to Joseph Smith?

Helen’s father, Heber C. Kimball, had the most active part in bringing Helen and Joseph together

Some points regarding the circumstances surrounding the sealing of Helen Mar Kimball to Joseph Smith[2]:

  • Helen never describes in her journal or later writings being alone with the Prophet even once without a chaperone. [3] References to intimate relations would not be expected. Yet, if the two spent time together as husband and wife, Helen might have made a passing reference to the interactions, but none are found.
  • Helen’s father, Heber C. Kimball, had the most active part in bringing Helen and Joseph together. Helen wrote: "He [her father—Heber C. Kimball] taught me the principle of Celestial marriage and having a great desire to be connected with the Prophet, Joseph, he offered me to him." [4] Richard Anderson explained: "Helen says several times that her father took the initiative to arrange the marriage and very possibly he did so with a view to committing her to the Prophet before her budding social life produced a choice or a proposal" from someone else. [5]
  • Joseph’s role was not completely passive because he was willing to teach Helen Mar and marry her after Heber introduced the idea. So this is a point where Joseph may be criticized. But it seems to be about the only one.

Brigham Young instructed polygamous men to wait to consummate their sealings to younger brides until they were at least eighteen

  • Helen’s sealing was presumably for both time and eternity, so this would eventually have become an actual marriage that included sexual relations. In Utah, Brigham Young instructed polygamous men to wait to consummate their sealings to younger brides until they were at least eighteen.[6] While it is impossible to document, it appears this policy began in Nauvoo with Joseph Smith.
  • Michael Marquardt surmised: "Helen Kimball’s sealing to Joseph Smith was a spiritual one unlike other wives who had sexual relations with the prophet."[7]
  • After her sealing, Helen wrote:

During the winter of 1843, there were plenty of parties and balls. … Some of the young gentlemen got up a series of dancing parties, to be held at the Mansion once a week. … I had to stay home, as my father had been warned by the Prophet to keep his daughter away from there, because of the blacklegs and certain ones of questionable character who attended there. … I felt quite sore over it, and thought it a very unkind act in father to allow [my brother] to go and enjoy the dance unrestrained with others of my companions, and fetter me down, for no girl loved dancing better than I did, and I really felt that it was too much to bear. It made the dull school still more dull, and like a wild bird I longer for the freedom that was denied me; and thought myself a much abused child, and that it was pardonable if I did murmur.[8]

Helen was not called to testify in the Temple Lot case, in which the Church was attempting to prove that Joseph had normal marital relations with some of his plural wives, even though she was available

Brian Hales observes:

In 1892, the RLDS Church led by Joseph Smith III sued the Church of Christ (Temple Lot),[9] disputing its claim to own the temple lot in Independence, Missouri. The Church of Christ (Temple Lot) held physical possession, and the RLDS Church took the official position that since it was the true successor of the church originally founded by Joseph Smith, it owned the property outright.[10]


Although the LDS Church was not a party to the suit, it provided support to the Church of Christ (Temple Lot). The issue was parsed this way: If the Church of Christ (Temple Lot) could prove that plural marriage was part of the original Church, then the RLDS Church was obviously not the true successor since it failed to practice such a key doctrine.[11]

During the proceedings, three plural wives of Joseph Smith (Lucy Walker, Emily Partridge, and Malissa Lott) were deposed.[12]

Why was Helen Kimball Whitney not also called to testify in the Temple Lot trial regarding her marriage relations with Joseph Smith? She lived in Salt Lake City, geographically much closer than two of the three witnesses: Malissa Lott live thirty miles south in Lehi, and Lucy Walker lived eighty-two miles north in Logan.

A likely reason is that Helen could not provide the needed testimony. All three of Joseph Smith’s wives who did testify affirmed that sexual relations were part of their plural marriages to the Prophet.[13] Testifying of either an unconsummated time-and-eternity sealing or an eternity-only marriage would have hurt the Temple Lot case. Such marriages would have been easily dismissed as unimportant.

If Helen’s plural union did not include conjugality, her testimony would not have been helpful. If it did, the reason for not inviting her to testify is not obvious. Not only was Helen passed over, but Mary Elizabeth Lightner, Zina Huntington, and Patty Sessions, who were sealed to Joseph in eternity-only marriages, were similarly not deposed.

The lack of evidence does not prove the lack of sexual relations, but these observations are consistent with an unconsummated union.

Helen became an advocate of plural marriage and vigorously defended it

  • Helen wrote more about plural marriage than any other female author in the nineteenth century, defending it and Joseph Smith. Included were two books, Plural Marriage as Taught by the Prophet Joseph: A Reply to Joseph Smith, Editor of the Lamoni Iowa "Herald" (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1882) and her second, Why We Practice Plural Marriage (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1840).
  • People may claim Helen was a victim of Joseph Smith and/or polygamy, but it is a claim she never made for herself. In 1881 Helen penned her feelings toward her sealing to the Prophet:
I am thankful that He [Heavenly Father] has brought me through the furnace of affliction and that He has condescended to show me that the promises made to me the morning that I was sealed to the Prophet of God will not fail and I would not have the chain broken for I have had a view of the principle of eternal salvation and the perfect union which this sealing power will bring to the human family and with the help of our Heavenly Father I am determined to so live that I can claim those promises.[14]

Helen wrote a poem entitled "Reminiscences," which is often cited by critics

Later in life, Helen wrote a poem entitled "Reminiscences." It is often cited for the critics' claims:

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 dreems all o'er thou'rt doom'd alas 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. [p. 2]
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.[15]

The first portion of the poem expresses the youthful Helen's attitude. She is distressed mostly because of the loss of socialization and youthful ideas about romance. But, as Helen was later to explain more clearly in prose, she would soon realize that her youthful pout was uncalled for—she saw that her plural marriage had, in fact, protected her. "I have long since learned to leave all with Him, who knoweth better than ourselves what will make us happy," she noted after the poem.[16]

Helen was disappointed that she was not permitted to attend a party or a dance

Thus, she would later write of her youthful disappointment in not being permitted to attend a party or dance:

During the winter of 1843, there were plenty of parties and balls. … Some of the young gentlemen got up a series of dancing parties, to be held at the Mansion once a week. … I had to stay home, as my father had been warned by the Prophet to keep his daughter away from there, because of the blacklegs and certain ones of questionable character who attended there. … I felt quite sore over it, and thought it a very unkind act in father to allow [my brother] to go and enjoy the dance unrestrained with others of my companions, and fetter me down, for no girl loved dancing better than I did, and I really felt that it was too much to bear. It made the dull school still more dull, and like a wild bird I longed for the freedom that was denied me; and thought myself a much abused child, and that it was pardonable if I did murmur.

I imagined that my happiness was all over and brooded over the sad memories of sweet departed joys and all manner of future woes, which (by the by) were of short duration, my bump of hope being too large to admit of my remaining long under the clouds. Besides my father was very kind and indulgent in other ways, and always took me with him when mother could not go, and it was not a very long time before I became satisfied that I was blessed in being under the control of so good and wise a parent who had taken counsel and thus saved me from evils, which some others in their youth and inexperience were exposed to though they thought no evil. Yet the busy tongue of scandal did not spare them. A moral may be drawn from this truthful story. "Children obey thy parents," etc. And also, "Have regard to thy name, for that shall continue with you above a thousand great treasures of gold." "A good life hath but few days; but a good name endureth forever.[17]

So, despite her youthful reaction, Helen uses this as an illustration of how she was being a bit immature and upset, and how she ought to have trusted her parents, and that she was actually protected from problems that arose from the parties she missed.

Did Helen Mar Kimball "confess" to having marital relations with Joseph?

Helen allegedly said "I would never have been sealed to Joseph had I known it was anything more than ceremony"

Critics of the Church provide a supposed "confession" from Helen, in which she reportedly said:

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.[18]

The source of the statement is "suspect"

Author Todd Compton properly characterizes this source, noting that it is an anti-Mormon work, and calls its extreme language "suspect."[19]

Author George D. Smith tells his readers only that this is Helen "confiding," while doing nothing to reveal the statement's provenance from a hostile source.[20] Newell and Avery tell us nothing of the nature of this source and call it only a "statement" in the Stanley Ivins Collection;[21] Van Wagoner mirrors G. D. Smith by disingenuously writing that "Helen confided [this information] to a close Nauvoo friend," without revealing its anti-Mormon origins.[22]

In order for this story to be true, Helen would be telling a story at variance with all other things that she wrote

To credit this story at face value, one must also admit that Helen told others in Nauvoo about the marriage (something she repeatedly emphasized she was not to do) and that she told a story at variance with all the others from her pen during a lifetime of staunch defense of plural marriage.[23]

If we accept the statement as valid, we may interpret it in other ways than conjugality.

As Brian Hales writes:

It is clear that Helen’s sealing to Joseph Smith prevented her from socializing as an unmarried lady. The primary document referring to the relationship is an 1881 poem penned by Helen that has been interpreted in different ways ...

After leaving the church, dissenter Catherine Lewis reported Helen saying: "I would never have been sealed to Joseph had I known it was anything more than a ceremony."

Assuming this statement was accurate, which is not certain, the question arises regarding her meaning of "more than a ceremony"? While sexuality is a possibility, a more likely interpretation is that the ceremony prevented her from associating with her friends as an unmarried teenager, causing her dramatic distress after the sealing.[24]

Was Helen Mar Kimball's marriage to Joseph Smith ever consummated?

Critics generally do not reveal that their sources have concluded that Helen's marriage to Joseph Smith was never consummated

Critics generally do not reveal that their sources have concluded that Helen's marriage to Joseph Smith was unconsummated, preferring instead to point out that mere fact of the marriage of a 14-year-old girl to a 37-year-old man ought to be evidence enough to imply sexual relations and "pedophilia." For example, George D. Smith quotes Compton without disclosing his view,[25] cites Compton, but ignores that Compton argues that " there is absolutely no evidence that there was any sexuality in the marriage, and I suggest that, following later practice in Utah, there may have been no sexuality. All the evidence points to this marriage as a primarily dynastic marriage." [26] and Stanley Kimball without disclosing that he believed the marriage to be "unconsummated." [27]

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

What were Helen Mar Kimball's views on plural marriage?

Helen disliked plural marriage because of the difficulties it placed on her mother

Helen made clear what she disliked about plural marriage in Nauvoo, and it was not physical relations with an older man:

I had, in hours of temptation, when seeing the trials of my mother, felt to rebel. I hated polygamy in my heart, I had loved my baby more than my God, and mourned for it unreasonably….[28]

Helen is describing a period during the westward migration when (married monogamously) her first child died. Helen was upset by polygamy only because she saw the difficulties it placed on her mother. She is not complaining about her own experience with it.

Helen Mar Kimball: "I have encouraged and sustained my husband in the celestial order of marriage because I knew it was right"

Helen Mar Kimball:

All my sins and shortcomings were magnified before my eyes till I believed I had sinned beyond redemption. Some may call it the fruits of a diseased brain. There is nothing without a cause, be that as it may, it was a keen reality to me. During that season I lost my speech, forgot the names of everybody and everything, and was living in another sphere, learning lessons that would serve me in future times to keep me in the narrow way. I was left a poor wreck of what I had been, but the Devil with all his cunning, little thought that he was fitting and preparing my heart to fulfill its destiny….

[A]fter spending one of the happiest days of my life I was moved upon to talk to my mother. I knew her heart was weighed down in sorrow and I was full of the holy Ghost. I talked as I never did before, I was too weak to talk with such a voice (of my own strength), beside, I never before spoke with such eloquence, and she knew that it was not myself. She was so affected that she sobbed till I ceased. I assured her that father loved her, but he had a work to do, she must rise above her feelings and seek for the Holy Comforter, and though it rent her heart she must uphold him, for he in taking other wives had done it only in obedience to a holy principle. Much more I said, and when I ceased, she wiped her eyes and told me to rest. I had not felt tired till she said this, but commenced then to feel myself sinking away. I silently prayed to be renewed, when my strength returned that instant…

I have encouraged and sustained my husband in the celestial order of marriage because I knew it was right. At various times I have been healed by the washing and annointing, administered by the mothers in Israel. I am still spared to testify to the truth and Godliness of this work; and though my happiness once consisted in laboring for those I love, the Lord has seen fit to deprive me of bodily strength, and taught me to 'cast my bread upon the waters' and after many days my longing spirit was cheered with the knowledge that He had a work for me to do, and with Him, I know that all things are possible…[29]

Why would Joseph marry a young woman in her teens?

What is Presentism?

Imagine a school-child who asks why French knights didn't resist the English during the Battle of Agincourt (in 1415) using Sherman battle tanks. We might gently reply that there were no such tanks available. The child, a precocious sort, retorts that the French generals must have been incompetent, because everyone knows that tanks are necessary. The child has fallen into the trap of presentism—he has presumed that situations and circumstances in the past are always the same as the present. Clearly, there were no Sherman tanks available in 1415; we cannot in fairness criticize the French for not using something which was unavailable and unimagined.

Spotting such anachronistic examples of presentism is relatively simple. The more difficult problems involve issues of culture, behavior, and attitude. For example, it seems perfectly obvious to most twenty-first century North Americans that discrimination on the basis of race is wrong. We might judge a modern, racist politician quite harshly. We risk presentism, however, if we presume that all past politicians and citizens should have recognized racism, and fought it. In fact, for the vast majority of history, racism has almost always been present. Virtually all historical figures are, by modern standards, racists. To identify George Washington or Thomas Jefferson as racists, and to judge them as moral failures, is to be guilty of presentism.

A caution against presentism is not to claim that no moral judgments are possible about historical events, or that it does not matter whether we are racists or not. Washington and Jefferson were born into a culture where society, law, and practice had institutionalized racism. For them even to perceive racism as a problem would have required that they lift themselves out of their historical time and place. Like fish surrounded by water, racism was so prevalent and pervasive that to even imagine a world without it would have been extraordinarily difficult. We will not properly understand Washington and Jefferson, and their choices, if we simply condemn them for violating modern standards of which no one in their era was aware.

A textbook example of presentist history is the claim that Joseph engaged in "statuatory rape"

Condemning Joseph Smith for "statutory rape" is a textbook example of presentist history. "Rape," of course, is a crime in which the victim is forced into sexual behavior against her (or his) will. Such behavior has been widely condemned in ancient and modern societies. Like murder or theft, it arguably violates the moral conscience of any normal individual. It was certainly a crime in Joseph Smith's day, and if Joseph was guilty of forced sexual intercourse, it would be appropriate to condemn him.

(Despite what some claim, not all marriages or sealings were consummated, as in Helen's case discussed above.)

"Statutory rape," however, is a completely different matter. Statutory rape is sexual intercourse with a victim that is deemed too young to provide legal consent--it is rape under the "statute," or criminal laws of the nation. Thus, a twenty-year-old woman who chooses to have sex has not been raped. Our society has concluded, however, that a ten-year-old child does not have the physical, sexual, or emotional maturity to truly understand the decision to become sexually active. Even if a ten-year-old agrees to sexual intercourse with a twenty-year-old male, the male is guilty of "statutory rape." The child's consent does not excuse the adult's behavior, because the adult should have known that sex with a minor child is illegal.

Even in the modern United States, statutory rape laws vary by state. A twenty-year-old who has consensual sex with a sixteen-year-old in Alabama would have nothing to fear; moving to California would make him guilty of statutory rape even if his partner was seventeen.

By analogy, Joseph Smith likely owned a firearm for which he did not have a license--this is hardly surprising, since no law required guns to be registered on the frontier in 1840. It would be ridiculous for Hitchens to complain that Joseph "carried an unregistered firearm." While it is certainly true that Joseph's gun was unregistered, this tells us very little about whether Joseph was a good or bad man. The key question, then, is not "Would Joseph Smith's actions be illegal today?" Only a bigot would condemn someone for violating a law that had not been made.

Rather, the question should be, "Did Joseph violate the laws of the society in which he lived?" If Joseph did not break the law, then we might go on to ask, "Did his behavior, despite not being illegal, violate the common norms of conscience or humanity?" For example, even if murder was not illegal in Illinois, if Joseph repeatedly murdered, we might well question his morality.

Does the case of Helen mean Joseph was a "pedophile"?

"Pedophilia" applies to children; Helen was regarded as a mature young woman

Helen specifically mentioned that she was regarded as mature.[30] 'Pedophilia' is an inflammatory charge that refers to a sexual attraction to pre-pubertal children. It simply does not apply in the present case, even if the relationship had been consummated.

It is claimed by critics that the average age of menarche in 1840 was 16.4 years and that therefore Helen Mar Kimball was prepubescent when she was sealed to Joseph Smith at age 14

Critics of Mormonism claim that Helen Mar Kimball was prepubescent at the time that she was sealed to Joseph Smith, and that this is therefore evidence that Joseph was a pedophile. Pedophila describes a sexual attraction to prepubescent children. However, there is no evidence that Helen ever cohabited with or had sexual relations with Joseph. In fact, she continued to live with her parents after the sealing.

The use of the term "pedophilia" by critics in this situation is intended to generate a negative emotional response in the reader. Pedophiles don't advertise their obsession and they certainly don't discuss marriages with the parents of their intended victims. It was Heber C. Kimball that requested that this sealing be performed, not Joseph. There is no evidence that Joseph was a pedophile.

The age of menarche in America in 1840 has a normal distribution close to a mean of 15.2 years and a standard deviation of 1.85

European data indicates a long term linear drop, while US data is much more sparse. Using post-1910 data, Wyshak (1983) determined that the average age at menarche was dropping linearly at 3.2 month/decade with a value of 13.1 in 1920. This trend projects to 15.2 in 1840 and 16.3 in 1800. The onset of menarche follows a normal distribution that had a larger spread in the 19th century (σ≈1.7 to 2.0) in Brown (1966) and Laslett (1977).[31]

Helen Mar Kimball was likely married near the end of the month of May in 1843 and was thus approximately 14.8 years old when she was sealed to Joseph Smith. With only the statistics cited above we can conclude that 40% of the young women her age would have already matured and thus in their society be considered marriage eligible. If 40% is taken as an a priori probability, additional information puts maturity at her first marriage beyond a reasonable doubt using Bayesian methodology.

Helen and her contemporaries considered her mature for her age

Helen remembered transitioning from childhood to adulthood over a year before her first marriage as she attended social functions with older teens. Here is quote on the abruptness of this transition in the past from a graduate course's textbook on child development:

In industrial societies, as we have mentioned, the concept of adolescence as a period of development is quite recent. Until the early twentieth century, young people were considered children until they left school (often well before age 13), married or got a job, and entered the adult world. By the 1920s, with the establishment of comprehensive high schools to meet the needs of a growing economy and with more families able to support extended formal education for their children, the teenage years had become a distinct period of development (Keller, 1999). In some preindustrial societies, the concept of adolescence still does not exist. The Chippewa, for example, have only two periods of childhood: from birth until the child walks, and from walking to puberty. What we call adolescence is, for them, part of adulthood (Broude, 1995), as was true in societies before industrialization.[32]

Helen recalls that by March 1842, she "had grown up very fast and my father often took me out with him and for this reason was taken to be older than I was." At these social gatherings, she developed a crush on her future husband Horace Whitney. She later married him after Joseph Smith's martyrdom and her 16th birthday and had 12 children with him.

According to Helen:

Sarah Ann's brother, Horace, who was twenty months her senior, made one of the party but had never dreamed of such a thing as matrimony with me, whom he only remembered in the earliest school days in Kirtland as occupying one of the lowest seats. He becoming enough advanced, soon left the one taught in the red schoolhouse on the flat and attended a higher one on the hill, and through our moving to Missouri and Illinois we lost sight of each other. After the party was over I stopped the rest of the night with Sarah, and as her room and his were adjoining, being only separated by a partition, our talk seemed to disturb him, and he was impolite enough to tell us of it, and request us to stop and let him go to sleep, which was proof enough that he had never thought of me only as the green school girl that I was, or he would certainly have submitted gracefully (as lovers always should) to be made a martyr of.[33]

Evidence supports that Mormon teens did not marry until they had reached maturity.

Scholars that study fertility often divide large samples into cohorts which are 5 years wide based on birth year or marriage age . In contrast to what some critics claim, the marriage cohort of 15-19 year olds has been shown at times to be more fertile than the 20-24 cohort. The authors of one study found that "Unlike most other reported natural-fertility populations, period fertility rates for married Mormon women aged 15-19 are higher between 1870 and 1894 than those for married women in their 20s. Women aged 15-19 in 1870-74 would have been born in the 1850s when 55.8 percent were married before their 20th birthday; thus, this cannot be treated as an insignificant group." And also "In addition, the median interval between marriage and birth of the first child is consistently about one year for all age-at-marriage groups."[34] Another study disproved that younger marital age (15-19) resulted in a higher infant mortality rate due to the mother not being fully mature (termed the "biological-insufficiency hypothesis.").[35]

Helen continued to live with her parents after the sealing, and then married someone else and had children with them after Joseph's death

Helen continued to live with her parents after the sealing. After Joseph's death, Helen was married and had children.

Unlike today, it was acceptable to be sealed to one person for eternity while being married for time to another person. It is not known if this was the case with Helen, however.

Four Key Questions

We must, then, address four questions:

  1. What were the ages of Joseph's wives?
  2. Did Joseph have sexual intercourse with these women? If not, then the issue of statutory rape is moot. If so, we have not proven statutory rape, but can move on to the next question.
  3. What were the statutory rape laws of the time, and did Joseph violate them?
  4. If Joseph was not guilty of statutory rape, did he nevertheless violate common norms of conscience or society?

1. The Age of Joseph's Wives

Even LDS authors are not immune from presentist fallacies: Todd Compton, convinced that plural marriage was a tragic mistake, "strongly disapprove[s] of polygamous marriages involving teenage women." [36] This would include, presumably, those marriages which Joseph insisted were commanded by God. Compton notes, with some disapproval, that a third of Joseph's wives were under twenty years of age. The modern reader may be shocked. We must beware, however, of presentism—is it that unusual that a third of Joseph's wives would have been teenagers?

When we study others in Joseph's environment, we find that it was not. A sample of 201 Nauvoo-era civil marriages found that 33.3% were under twenty, with one bride as young as twelve. [37] Another sample of 127 Kirtland marriages found that nearly half (49.6%) were under twenty. [38] And, a computer-aided study of LDS marriages found that from 1835–1845, 42.3% of women were married before age twenty. [39] The only surprising thing about Joseph's one third is that more of his marriage partners were not younger.

Furthermore, this pattern does not seem to be confined to the Mormons (see Chart 12 1). A 1% sample from the 1850 U.S. census found 989 men and 962 who had been married in the last year. Teens made up 36.0% of married women, and only 2.3% of men; the average age of marriage was 22.5 for women and 27.8 for men. [40] Even when the men in Joseph's age range (34–38 years) in the U.S. Census are extracted, Joseph still has a lower percentage of younger wives and more older wives than non-members half a decade later. [41]

Chart 12-1 Chart 12-1.png

I suspect that Compton goes out of his way to inflate the number of young wives, since he lumps everyone between "14 to 20 years old" together. [42] It is not clear why this age range should be chosen—women eighteen or older are adults even by modern standards.

A more useful breakdown by age is found in Table 12-1. Rather than lumping all wives younger than twenty-one together (a third of all the wives), our analysis shows that only a fifth of the wives would be under eighteen. These are the only women at risk of statutory rape issues even in the modern era.

Table 12-1: Ages of Joseph's Wives [43]
Age range Percent (n=33)
14-17 21.2%
18-19 9.1%
20-29 27.3%
30-39 27.3%
40-49 3.0%
50-59 12.1%

2. Were there marital relations?

As shown elsewhere, the data for sexual relations in Joseph's plural marriages are quite scant (see Chapter 10—not online). For the purposes of evaluating "statutory rape" charges, only a few relationships are relevant.

The most prominent is, of course, Helen Mar Kimball, who was the prophet's youngest wife, married three months prior to her 15th birthday. [44] As we have seen, Todd Compton's treatment is somewhat confused, but he clarifies his stance and writes that "[a]ll the evidence points to this marriage as a primarily dynastic marriage." [45] Other historians have also concluded that Helen's marriage to Joseph was unconsummated. [46]

Nancy M. Winchester was married at age fourteen or fifteen, but we know nothing else of her relationship with Joseph. [47]

Flora Ann Woodruff was also sixteen at her marriage, and "[a]n important motivation" seems to have been "the creation of a bond between" Flora's family and Joseph. [48] We know nothing of the presence or absence of marital intimacy.

Fanny Alger would have been sixteen if Compton's date for the marriage is accepted. Given that I favor a later date for her marriage, this would make her eighteen. In either case, we have already seen how little reliable information is available for this marriage (see Chapter 4—not online), though on balance it was probably consummated.

Sarah Ann Whitney, Lucy Walker, and Sarah Lawrence were each seventeen at the time of their marriage. Here at last we have reliable evidence of intimacy, since Lucy Walker suggested that the Lawrence sisters had consummated their marriage with Joseph. Intimacy in Joseph's marriages may have been more rare than many have assumed—Walker's testimony suggested marital relations with the Partridge and Lawrence sisters, but said nothing about intimacy in her own marriage (see Chapter 10—not online).

Sarah Ann Whitney's marriage had heavy dynastic overtones, binding Joseph to faithful Bishop Orson F. Whitney. We know nothing of a sexual dimension, though Compton presumes that one is implied by references to the couple's "posterity" and "rights" of marriage in the sealing ceremony. [49] This is certainly plausible, though the doctrine of adoption and Joseph's possible desire to establish a pattern for all marriages/sealings might caution us against assuming too much.

Of Joseph's seven under-eighteen wives, then, only one (Lawrence) has even second-hand evidence of intimacy. Fanny Alger has third-hand hostile accounts of intimacy, and we know nothing about most of the others. Lucy Walker and Helen Mar Kimball seem unlikely candidates for consummation.

The evidence simply does not support Christopher Hitchens' wild claim, since there is scant evidence for sexuality in the majority of Joseph's marriages. Many presume that Joseph practiced polygamy to satisfy sexual longings, and with a leer suggest that of course Joseph would have consummated these relationships, since that was the whole point. Such reasoning is circular, and condemns Joseph's motives and actions before the evidence is heard.

Even were we to conclude that Joseph consummated each of his marriages—a claim nowhere sustained by the evidence—this would not prove that he acted improperly, or was guilty of "statutory rape." This requires an examination into the legal climate of his era.

3. Statutory Rape and the Law

The very concept of a fifteen- or seventeen-year-old suffering statutory rape in the 1840s is flagrant presentism. The age of consent under English common law was ten. American law did not raise the age of consent until the late nineteenth century, and in Joseph Smith's day only a few states had raised it to twelve. Delaware, meanwhile, lowered the age of consent to seven. [50]

In our time, legal minors can often be married before the age of consent with parental approval. Joseph certainly sought and received the approval of parents or male guardians for his marriages to Fanny Alger, Sarah Ann Whitney, Lucy Walker, and Helen Kimball. [51] His habit of approaching male relatives on this issue might suggest that permission was gained for other marriages about which we know less.

Clearly, then, Hitchens' attack is hopelessly presentist. None of Joseph's brides was near ten or twelve. And even if his wives' ages had presented legal risks, he often had parental sanction for the match.

4. Did Joseph violate societal norms?

There can be no doubt that the practice of polygamy was deeply offensive to monogamous, Victorian America. As everything from the Nauvoo Expositor to the latest anti-Mormon tract shows, the Saints were continually attacked for their plural marriages.

If we set aside the issue of plurality, however, the only issue which remains is whether it would have been considered bizarre, improper, or scandalous for a man in his mid-thirties to marry a woman in her mid- to late-teens. Clearly, Joseph's marriage to teen-age women was entirely normal for Mormons of his era. The sole remaining question is, were all these teen-age women marrying men their own age, or was marriage to older husbands also considered proper?

To my knowledge, the issue of age disparity was not a charge raised by critics in Joseph's day. It is difficult to prove a negative, but the absence of much comment on this point is probably best explained by the fact that plural marriage was scandalous, but marriages with teenage women were, if not the norm, at least not uncommon enough to occasion comment. For example, to disguise the practice of plural marriage, Joseph had eighteen-year-old Sarah Whitney pretend to marry Joseph Kingsbury, who was days away from thirty-one. [52] If this age gap would have occasioned comment, Joseph Smith would not have used Kingsbury as a decoy.

One hundred and eighty Nauvoo-era civil marriages have husbands and wives with known ages and marriage dates. [53] Chart 12 2 demonstrates that these marriages follow the general pattern of wives being younger than husbands.

Chart 12-2

Chart 12-2.png

When the age of husband is plotted against the age of each wife, it becomes clear that almost all brides younger than twenty married men between five and twenty years older (see Chart 12-3).

Chart 12-3

Chart 12-3.png

This same pattern appears in 879 marriages from the 1850 U.S. Census (see Chart 12 4). Non-Mormon age differences easily exceeded Joseph's except for age fourteen. We should not make too much of this, since the sample size is very small (one or two cases for Joseph; three for the census) and dynastic motives likely played a large role in Joseph's choice, as discussed above.

Chart 12-4 Chart 12-4.png

In short, Mormon civil marriage patterns likely mimicked those of their gentile neighbors. Neither Mormons or their critics would have found broad age differences to be an impediment to conjugal marriage. In fact, the age difference between wives and their husbands was greatest in the teen years, and decreased steadily until around Joseph's age, between 30–40 years, when the spread between spouses' ages was narrowest (note the bright pink bars in Chart 12-5).

Chart 12-5

Chart 12-5.png

As Thomas Hine, a non-LDS scholar of adolescence noted:

Until the twentieth century, adult expectations of young people were determined not by age but by size. If a fourteen-year-old looked big and strong enough to do a man's work on a farm or in a factory or mine, most people viewed him as a man. And if a sixteen-year-old was slower to develop and couldn't perform as a man, he wasn't one. For, young women, the issue was much the same. To be marriageable was the same as being read for motherhood, which was determined by physical development, not age....
The important thing, though, was that the maturity of each young person was judged individually. [54]

Why the modern world is different

Why did pre-modern peoples see nothing wrong with teen marriages? Part of the explanation likely lies in the fact that life-expectancy was greatly reduced compared to our time (see Table 12 2).

Table 12-2—Life Expectancy in the United States
Group Life Expect in 1850 (years) [55] Life Expect in 1901 (years) [56] Life Expect in 2004 (years) [57]
Males at birth 38.3 47.9 75.7
Males at age 20 60.1 62.0 76.6
Females at birth 40.5 50.7 80.8
Females at age 20 60.2 63.6 81.5

The modern era has also seen the "extension" of childhood, as many more years are spent in schooling and preparation for adult work. In the 1840s, these issues simply weren't in play for women—men needed to be able to provide for their future family, and often had the duties of apprenticeship which prevented early marriage. Virtually everything a woman needed to know about housekeeping and childrearing, however, was taught in the home. It is not surprising, then, that parents in the 1840s considered their teens capable of functioning as married adults, while parents in 2007 know that marriages for young teens will usually founder on issues of immaturity, under-employment, and lack of education.

Learn more about polygamy and marriage to young women
Key sources
  • Craig L. Foster, David Keller, and Gregory L. Smith, “The Age of Joseph Smith’s Plural Wives in Social and Demographic Context,” in The Persistence of Polygamy, eds. Newell G. Bringhurst and Craig L. Foster (Independence, MO: John Whitmer Books, 2010), 152–83.
Wiki links
Online
  • "Joseph Smith and Fanny Alger," BH Roberts Foundation print-link.
Navigators


Notes

  1. Lynn Hunt, "Against Presentism," (President's Column) Perspectives 40/5 (May 2002).
  2. This material was provided courtesy of Brian and Laura Hales.
  3. See Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, Plural Marriage as Taught by the Prophet Joseph: A Reply to Joseph Smith, Editor of the Lamoni Iowa "Herald" (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1882); Why We Practice Plural Marriage (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1840). Helen also kept a detailed journal throughout much of her life. See Charles M.Hatch and Todd M. Compton, eds., A Widow’s Tale: The 1884-1896 Diary of Helen Mar Kimball Whitney (Logan, UT: Utah State University Press, 2003).
  4. Typescript and copy of holograph reproduced in Jeni Broberg Holzapfel and Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, eds., A Woman’s View: Helen Mar Whitney’s Reminiscences of Early Church History (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1997), 482–87.
  5. Richard L. Anderson to Dawn Comfort, May 9–15, 1998, copy of letter in Scott H. Faulring Papers, box 93, fds 1–3, (accn 2316), Marriott Library.
  6. See discussion in Eugene E. Campbell, Establishing Zion: The Mormon Church in the American West 1847-1869 (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1988), 198n5.
  7. Michael Marquardt, The Rise of Mormonism: 1816–1844 (Longwood, FL: Xulon Press, 2005), 609.
  8. Woman’s Exponent 11, no. 12, November 15, 1882, 90; see Holzapfel and Holzapfel, eds., A Woman’s View, 224.
  9. Known colloquially as “Hedrickites” after Granville Hedrick, who was ordained the church’s first leader in 1863. They prefer the title of “Church of Christ (Temple Lot).”
  10. S. Patrick Baggette II, “The Temple Lot Case: Fraud in God’s Vineyard,” 136.
  11. The Church of Christ (Temple Lot) were staunchly opposed to plural marriage and seemed to have pursued polygamy as a line of inquiry only for strategic purposes. See R. Jean Addams, “The Church of Christ (Temple Lot) and the Reorganized Church of Latter Day Saints: 130 Years of Crossroads and Controversies,” Journal of Mormon History 36, no. 2 (2010): 29–53.
  12. The Temple Lot case transcript, as it is popularly known, comprises more than 1,700 pages. It can be accessed at https://archive.org/details/TempleLotCaseTranscript.
  13. Malissa Lott, Deposition, Temple Lot Transcript, Respondent’s Testimony, part 3, page 105, question 227; Lucy Walker, Deposition, Temple Lot Transcript, Respondent’s Testimony, part 3, pages 450–51, 468, 473, questions 29–30, 463–74, 586.
  14. Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, "Autobiography, 30 March 1881," MS 744, CHL. Typescript and copy of holograph reproduced in Holzapfel and Holzapfel, A Woman’s View, 482–87.
  15. "Helen Mar Kimball Whitney 1881 Autobiography," Appendix I in Helen Mar Whitney, A Woman's View: Helen Mar Whitney's Reminiscences of Early Church History, ed. Jeni Broberg Holzapfel and Richard Neitzel Holzapfel (Provo, Utah / Salt Lake City, Utah: BYU Religious Studies Center, distributed by Bookcraft, 1997), 486.
  16. Helen Mar Whitney, A Woman's View: Helen Mar Whitney's Reminiscences of Early Church History, ed. Jeni Broberg Holzapfel and Richard Neitzel Holzapfel (Provo, Utah / Salt Lake City, Utah: BYU Religious Studies Center, distributed by Bookcraft, 1997), 486–487.
  17. Helen Mar Whitney, Scenes and Incidents, 90. (italics added)
  18. Catherine Lewis, Narrative of Some of the Proceedings of the Mormons (Lynn, MA: n.p., 1848), 19.
  19. Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 195. ( Index of claims )
  20. George D. Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy: "...but we called it celestial marriage" (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2008), 202. ( Index of claims , (Detailed book review))
  21. Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, 2nd edition, (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 147.
  22. Richard S. Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 2005), 293. (Reviews)
  23. On Helen’s authentic statements, see Helen Mar Whitney, A Woman’s View: Helen Mar Whitney’s Reminiscences of Early Church History, ed. Jeni Broberg Holzapfel and Richard Neitzel Holzapfel (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1997), ix–xliii.
  24. See "Helen Mar Kimball" at http://josephsmithspolygamy.org/plural-wives-overview/helen-mar-kimball/
  25. George D. Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy
  26. Todd M. Compton, "Response to Tanners," post to LDS Bookshelf mailing list (no date), http://www.lds-mormon.com/compton.shtml (accessed 2 December 2008). Compare with Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy, 198–202, 302, 362 and Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 14.)
  27. Stanley B. Kimball, Heber C. Kimball: Mormon Patriarch and Pioneer (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1981), 98. See also Stanley B. Kimball, "Heber C. Kimball and Family, the Nauvoo Years," Brigham Young University Studies 15/4 (Summer 1975): 465.
  28. Augusta Joyce Crocheron (author and complier), Representative Women of Deseret, a book of biographical sketches to accompany the picture bearing the same title (Salt Lake City: J. C. Graham & Co., 1884).
  29. Augusta Joyce Crocheron (author and complier), Representative Women of Deseret, a book of biographical sketches to accompany the picture bearing the same title (Salt Lake City: J. C. Graham & Co., 1884).
  30. [citation needed]
  31. Craig L. Foster, David Keller, and Gregory L. Smith, “The Age of Joseph Smith’s Plural Wives in Social and Demographic Context,” in The Persistence of Polygamy, eds. Newell G. Bringhurst and Craig L. Foster (Independence, MO: John Whitmer Books, 2010), 152–83. The authors cite Grace Wyshak "Secular changes in age at menarche in a sample of US women," Annals of Human Biology 10:1 (1983): 75–77; P. E. Brown, “The Age at Menarche,” British Journal of Preventive and Social Medicine 20 (1966): 9–14; and Peter Laslett, Family life and Illicit Love in Earlier Generations (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1977).
  32. Diane Papalia, Gabriela Martorell, and R. Feldman, In A Child's World: Infancy through Adolescence, 13th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 2014).
  33. Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, 1828-1896, Autobiography (c. 1839-1846), "Life Incidents," Woman's Exponent 9-10 (1880-1882) and "Scenes and Incidents in Nauvoo," Woman's Exponent 11 (1882-83)) off-site
  34. Mineau, G. P., L. L. Bean, and M. Skolnick 1979 “Mormon demographic history, II: The family life cycle and natural fertility,” Population Studies 33, 3:429–46.
  35. L. Bean, G. Mineau, and D. Anderton, "High-Risk Childbearing: Fertility and Infant Mortality on the American Frontier," Social Science History 16, no. 3 (1992): 337–63.
  36. Todd M. Compton, Response to Tanners, post to LDS Bookshelf mailing list, no date. (15 May 2005).
  37. Susan Easton Black, "Marriages in the Nauvoo Region 1839-1845," on-line database, using sources: Lyndon W. Cook, Civil Marriages in Nauvoo and some outlying areas (1839-1845) (Liberty Publishing Co., 1980); with additional data from Times and Seasons, The Wasp, Nauvoo Neighbor, and "A Record of Marriages in the City of Nauvoo," located at the Historical Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. <http://www.worldvitalrecords.com/indexinfo.aspx?ix=usa_il_nauvoo_marriages> I am indebted to David Keller, who performed the initial data extraction, and saved me hours of work by sharing his raw data files.
  38. Kirtland marriage data from Milton V. Backman, Jr. with Keith Perkins and Susan Easton, "A profile of Latter-day Saints of Kirtland, Ohio and members of Zion's Camp 1830–1839 : vital statistics and sources," complied in cooperation with the Department of Church History and Doctrine, Brigham Young University, in Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah. The indefatigable David Keller also provided me with this data.
  39. M. Skolnick, L. Bean, D. May, V. Arbon, K. De Nevers and P. Cartwright, "Mormon Demographic History I. Nuptiality and Fertility of Once-Married Couples," Populations Studies 32 (1978): 14, table 3. off-site I appreciate John Gee bringing this reference to my attention.
  40. Data from Steven Ruggles, Matthew Sobek, Trent Alexander, Catherine A. Fitch, Ronald Goeken, Patricia Kelly Hall, Miriam King, and Chad Ronnander, Integrated Public Use Microdata Series: Version 3.0 [Machine-readable database]. Minneapolis, MN: Minnesota Population Center [producer and distributor] (2004), accessed 14 July 2007. <http://usa.ipums.org/usa/> I'm grateful to David Keller for sharing the raw data with me.
  41. The U.S. Census data included marriages within the last year since the census, so some marriages could have occurred prior to the wife's recorded birthday. Presumably this effect would be equally distributed throughout the year—to adjust for this, the data was convolved via a moving average. This did not materially affect the data plots; see Appendix 1 for both versions of the Nauvoo data plotted. My thanks to David Keller for discussions and help with the statistics.
  42. Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 11. ( Index of claims )
  43. Despite debates about whether all these wives should be included, I have simply used the data from Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 4–7. ( Index of claims ) If a marriage date is uncertain, I have used the earliest possible age.
  44. B. Carmon Hardy, Works of Abraham, 48; Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 6.
  45. Todd M. Compton, Response to Tanners, post to LDS Bookshelf mailing list, no date. (Accessed 15 May 2005).
  46. See Stanley B. Kimball, "Heber C. Kimball and Family, the Nauvoo Years," Brigham Young University Studies 15/4 (Summer 1975): 465; see also Richard Lloyd Anderson and Scott H. Faulring, "The Prophet Joseph Smith and His Plural Wives (Review of In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith)," FARMS Review of Books 10/2 (1998): 67–104; citing Stanley B. Kimball, Heber C. Kimball: Mormon Patriarch and Pioneer (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1981), 98.
  47. Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 606.
  48. Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 390.
  49. Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 347–349.
  50. Melina McTigue, "Statutory Rape Law Reform in Nineteenth Century Maryland: An Analysis of Theory and Practical Change," (2002), (accessed 5 Feb 2005). < http://www.law.georgetown.edu/glh/mctigue.htm>
  51. Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 31–33, 347–349, 464, 497–502.
  52. Kingsbury was born 2 May 1812, and "married" Sarah Whitney on 29 April 1843.
  53. Of 883 married individuals, there were 219 men and 201 women with exact birth and marriage dates. Of these, 180 marriages were identified in which the husband and wife's birth date was known. I matched these couples for data analysis. Since it is not clear how many of these marriages were first marriages, these data represents a conservative estimate of teen-age marriage in Nauvoo in the early 1840s. If second marriages were excluded, there would likely be an even greater percentage of teen marriages. The data is again from Susan Easton Black, "Marriages in the Nauvoo Region 1839–1845," op. cit. as originally extracted by David Keller.
  54. Thomas Hine, The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager: A New History of the American Adolescent Experience (HarperCollins, 1999), 16.
  55. These data are from Massachusetts only; U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Historical Statistics of the United States, on-line at < http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0005140.html> (accessed 10 December 2007).
  56. James W. Glover, United States Life Tables: 1890, 1901, 1910, and 1901–1910 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, 1921), 56, 60, tables 3, 5; on-line at <http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/lifetables/life1890-1910.pdf > (accessed 10 December 2007).
  57. U.S. Center for Disease Control, National Vital Statistics Reports 55/19 (21 August 2007): 25–26, tables 7–8, < http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr55/nvsr55_19.pdf> (accessed 10 December 2007). The figures used are for whites.
Articles about Plural marriage
Doctrinal foundation of plural marriage
Introduction of plural marriage
Plural marriage in Utah
End of plural marriage

Helen Mar Kimball

Summary: Helen was nearly fifteen when her father urged her to be sealed to Joseph Smith



The age of Joseph Smith's wives.

Summary: How old were Joseph Smith's plural wives? As discussed below, this sealing was likely unconsummated.

Divine manifestations to plural wives and families

Summary: Many members who were taught about plural marriage were initially reluctant or appalled; many reported miraculous divine manifestations convincing them of the truth of the doctrine. Helen's parents were two such members.
The Prophet said...that it [plural marriage] would damn more than it would have because \so many/ unprincipled men would take advantage of it, but that did not prove that it was not a pure principle. If Joseph had had any impure desires he could have gratified them in the style of the world with less danger of his life or his character, than to do as he did. The Lord commanded him to teach & to practice that principle.

—Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, Letter to Mary Bond, n.d., 3-9 quoted in Brian Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy: History, Vol. 1, 26-27. off-site
∗       ∗       ∗
Presentism, at its worst, encourages a kind of moral complacency and self-congratulation. Interpreting the past in terms of present concerns usually leads us to find ourselves morally superior…Our forbears constantly fail to measure up to our present-day standards.[1]
—Lynn Hunt, President of American Historical Association
∗       ∗       ∗


What were the circumstances surrounding the sealing of Helen Mar Kimball to Joseph Smith?

Helen’s father, Heber C. Kimball, had the most active part in bringing Helen and Joseph together

Some points regarding the circumstances surrounding the sealing of Helen Mar Kimball to Joseph Smith[2]:

  • Helen never describes in her journal or later writings being alone with the Prophet even once without a chaperone. [3] References to intimate relations would not be expected. Yet, if the two spent time together as husband and wife, Helen might have made a passing reference to the interactions, but none are found.
  • Helen’s father, Heber C. Kimball, had the most active part in bringing Helen and Joseph together. Helen wrote: "He [her father—Heber C. Kimball] taught me the principle of Celestial marriage and having a great desire to be connected with the Prophet, Joseph, he offered me to him." [4] Richard Anderson explained: "Helen says several times that her father took the initiative to arrange the marriage and very possibly he did so with a view to committing her to the Prophet before her budding social life produced a choice or a proposal" from someone else. [5]
  • Joseph’s role was not completely passive because he was willing to teach Helen Mar and marry her after Heber introduced the idea. So this is a point where Joseph may be criticized. But it seems to be about the only one.

Brigham Young instructed polygamous men to wait to consummate their sealings to younger brides until they were at least eighteen

  • Helen’s sealing was presumably for both time and eternity, so this would eventually have become an actual marriage that included sexual relations. In Utah, Brigham Young instructed polygamous men to wait to consummate their sealings to younger brides until they were at least eighteen.[6] While it is impossible to document, it appears this policy began in Nauvoo with Joseph Smith.
  • Michael Marquardt surmised: "Helen Kimball’s sealing to Joseph Smith was a spiritual one unlike other wives who had sexual relations with the prophet."[7]
  • After her sealing, Helen wrote:

During the winter of 1843, there were plenty of parties and balls. … Some of the young gentlemen got up a series of dancing parties, to be held at the Mansion once a week. … I had to stay home, as my father had been warned by the Prophet to keep his daughter away from there, because of the blacklegs and certain ones of questionable character who attended there. … I felt quite sore over it, and thought it a very unkind act in father to allow [my brother] to go and enjoy the dance unrestrained with others of my companions, and fetter me down, for no girl loved dancing better than I did, and I really felt that it was too much to bear. It made the dull school still more dull, and like a wild bird I longer for the freedom that was denied me; and thought myself a much abused child, and that it was pardonable if I did murmur.[8]

Helen was not called to testify in the Temple Lot case, in which the Church was attempting to prove that Joseph had normal marital relations with some of his plural wives, even though she was available

Brian Hales observes:

In 1892, the RLDS Church led by Joseph Smith III sued the Church of Christ (Temple Lot),[9] disputing its claim to own the temple lot in Independence, Missouri. The Church of Christ (Temple Lot) held physical possession, and the RLDS Church took the official position that since it was the true successor of the church originally founded by Joseph Smith, it owned the property outright.[10]


Although the LDS Church was not a party to the suit, it provided support to the Church of Christ (Temple Lot). The issue was parsed this way: If the Church of Christ (Temple Lot) could prove that plural marriage was part of the original Church, then the RLDS Church was obviously not the true successor since it failed to practice such a key doctrine.[11]

During the proceedings, three plural wives of Joseph Smith (Lucy Walker, Emily Partridge, and Malissa Lott) were deposed.[12]

Why was Helen Kimball Whitney not also called to testify in the Temple Lot trial regarding her marriage relations with Joseph Smith? She lived in Salt Lake City, geographically much closer than two of the three witnesses: Malissa Lott live thirty miles south in Lehi, and Lucy Walker lived eighty-two miles north in Logan.

A likely reason is that Helen could not provide the needed testimony. All three of Joseph Smith’s wives who did testify affirmed that sexual relations were part of their plural marriages to the Prophet.[13] Testifying of either an unconsummated time-and-eternity sealing or an eternity-only marriage would have hurt the Temple Lot case. Such marriages would have been easily dismissed as unimportant.

If Helen’s plural union did not include conjugality, her testimony would not have been helpful. If it did, the reason for not inviting her to testify is not obvious. Not only was Helen passed over, but Mary Elizabeth Lightner, Zina Huntington, and Patty Sessions, who were sealed to Joseph in eternity-only marriages, were similarly not deposed.

The lack of evidence does not prove the lack of sexual relations, but these observations are consistent with an unconsummated union.

Helen became an advocate of plural marriage and vigorously defended it

  • Helen wrote more about plural marriage than any other female author in the nineteenth century, defending it and Joseph Smith. Included were two books, Plural Marriage as Taught by the Prophet Joseph: A Reply to Joseph Smith, Editor of the Lamoni Iowa "Herald" (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1882) and her second, Why We Practice Plural Marriage (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1840).
  • People may claim Helen was a victim of Joseph Smith and/or polygamy, but it is a claim she never made for herself. In 1881 Helen penned her feelings toward her sealing to the Prophet:
I am thankful that He [Heavenly Father] has brought me through the furnace of affliction and that He has condescended to show me that the promises made to me the morning that I was sealed to the Prophet of God will not fail and I would not have the chain broken for I have had a view of the principle of eternal salvation and the perfect union which this sealing power will bring to the human family and with the help of our Heavenly Father I am determined to so live that I can claim those promises.[14]

Helen wrote a poem entitled "Reminiscences," which is often cited by critics

Later in life, Helen wrote a poem entitled "Reminiscences." It is often cited for the critics' claims:

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 dreems all o'er thou'rt doom'd alas 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. [p. 2]
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.[15]

The first portion of the poem expresses the youthful Helen's attitude. She is distressed mostly because of the loss of socialization and youthful ideas about romance. But, as Helen was later to explain more clearly in prose, she would soon realize that her youthful pout was uncalled for—she saw that her plural marriage had, in fact, protected her. "I have long since learned to leave all with Him, who knoweth better than ourselves what will make us happy," she noted after the poem.[16]

Helen was disappointed that she was not permitted to attend a party or a dance

Thus, she would later write of her youthful disappointment in not being permitted to attend a party or dance:

During the winter of 1843, there were plenty of parties and balls. … Some of the young gentlemen got up a series of dancing parties, to be held at the Mansion once a week. … I had to stay home, as my father had been warned by the Prophet to keep his daughter away from there, because of the blacklegs and certain ones of questionable character who attended there. … I felt quite sore over it, and thought it a very unkind act in father to allow [my brother] to go and enjoy the dance unrestrained with others of my companions, and fetter me down, for no girl loved dancing better than I did, and I really felt that it was too much to bear. It made the dull school still more dull, and like a wild bird I longed for the freedom that was denied me; and thought myself a much abused child, and that it was pardonable if I did murmur.

I imagined that my happiness was all over and brooded over the sad memories of sweet departed joys and all manner of future woes, which (by the by) were of short duration, my bump of hope being too large to admit of my remaining long under the clouds. Besides my father was very kind and indulgent in other ways, and always took me with him when mother could not go, and it was not a very long time before I became satisfied that I was blessed in being under the control of so good and wise a parent who had taken counsel and thus saved me from evils, which some others in their youth and inexperience were exposed to though they thought no evil. Yet the busy tongue of scandal did not spare them. A moral may be drawn from this truthful story. "Children obey thy parents," etc. And also, "Have regard to thy name, for that shall continue with you above a thousand great treasures of gold." "A good life hath but few days; but a good name endureth forever.[17]

So, despite her youthful reaction, Helen uses this as an illustration of how she was being a bit immature and upset, and how she ought to have trusted her parents, and that she was actually protected from problems that arose from the parties she missed.

Did Helen Mar Kimball "confess" to having marital relations with Joseph?

Helen allegedly said "I would never have been sealed to Joseph had I known it was anything more than ceremony"

Critics of the Church provide a supposed "confession" from Helen, in which she reportedly said:

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.[18]

The source of the statement is "suspect"

Author Todd Compton properly characterizes this source, noting that it is an anti-Mormon work, and calls its extreme language "suspect."[19]

Author George D. Smith tells his readers only that this is Helen "confiding," while doing nothing to reveal the statement's provenance from a hostile source.[20] Newell and Avery tell us nothing of the nature of this source and call it only a "statement" in the Stanley Ivins Collection;[21] Van Wagoner mirrors G. D. Smith by disingenuously writing that "Helen confided [this information] to a close Nauvoo friend," without revealing its anti-Mormon origins.[22]

In order for this story to be true, Helen would be telling a story at variance with all other things that she wrote

To credit this story at face value, one must also admit that Helen told others in Nauvoo about the marriage (something she repeatedly emphasized she was not to do) and that she told a story at variance with all the others from her pen during a lifetime of staunch defense of plural marriage.[23]

If we accept the statement as valid, we may interpret it in other ways than conjugality.

As Brian Hales writes:

It is clear that Helen’s sealing to Joseph Smith prevented her from socializing as an unmarried lady. The primary document referring to the relationship is an 1881 poem penned by Helen that has been interpreted in different ways ...

After leaving the church, dissenter Catherine Lewis reported Helen saying: "I would never have been sealed to Joseph had I known it was anything more than a ceremony."

Assuming this statement was accurate, which is not certain, the question arises regarding her meaning of "more than a ceremony"? While sexuality is a possibility, a more likely interpretation is that the ceremony prevented her from associating with her friends as an unmarried teenager, causing her dramatic distress after the sealing.[24]

Was Helen Mar Kimball's marriage to Joseph Smith ever consummated?

Critics generally do not reveal that their sources have concluded that Helen's marriage to Joseph Smith was never consummated

Critics generally do not reveal that their sources have concluded that Helen's marriage to Joseph Smith was unconsummated, preferring instead to point out that mere fact of the marriage of a 14-year-old girl to a 37-year-old man ought to be evidence enough to imply sexual relations and "pedophilia." For example, George D. Smith quotes Compton without disclosing his view,[25] cites Compton, but ignores that Compton argues that " there is absolutely no evidence that there was any sexuality in the marriage, and I suggest that, following later practice in Utah, there may have been no sexuality. All the evidence points to this marriage as a primarily dynastic marriage." [26] and Stanley Kimball without disclosing that he believed the marriage to be "unconsummated." [27]

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

What were Helen Mar Kimball's views on plural marriage?

Helen disliked plural marriage because of the difficulties it placed on her mother

Helen made clear what she disliked about plural marriage in Nauvoo, and it was not physical relations with an older man:

I had, in hours of temptation, when seeing the trials of my mother, felt to rebel. I hated polygamy in my heart, I had loved my baby more than my God, and mourned for it unreasonably….[28]

Helen is describing a period during the westward migration when (married monogamously) her first child died. Helen was upset by polygamy only because she saw the difficulties it placed on her mother. She is not complaining about her own experience with it.

Helen Mar Kimball: "I have encouraged and sustained my husband in the celestial order of marriage because I knew it was right"

Helen Mar Kimball:

All my sins and shortcomings were magnified before my eyes till I believed I had sinned beyond redemption. Some may call it the fruits of a diseased brain. There is nothing without a cause, be that as it may, it was a keen reality to me. During that season I lost my speech, forgot the names of everybody and everything, and was living in another sphere, learning lessons that would serve me in future times to keep me in the narrow way. I was left a poor wreck of what I had been, but the Devil with all his cunning, little thought that he was fitting and preparing my heart to fulfill its destiny….

[A]fter spending one of the happiest days of my life I was moved upon to talk to my mother. I knew her heart was weighed down in sorrow and I was full of the holy Ghost. I talked as I never did before, I was too weak to talk with such a voice (of my own strength), beside, I never before spoke with such eloquence, and she knew that it was not myself. She was so affected that she sobbed till I ceased. I assured her that father loved her, but he had a work to do, she must rise above her feelings and seek for the Holy Comforter, and though it rent her heart she must uphold him, for he in taking other wives had done it only in obedience to a holy principle. Much more I said, and when I ceased, she wiped her eyes and told me to rest. I had not felt tired till she said this, but commenced then to feel myself sinking away. I silently prayed to be renewed, when my strength returned that instant…

I have encouraged and sustained my husband in the celestial order of marriage because I knew it was right. At various times I have been healed by the washing and annointing, administered by the mothers in Israel. I am still spared to testify to the truth and Godliness of this work; and though my happiness once consisted in laboring for those I love, the Lord has seen fit to deprive me of bodily strength, and taught me to 'cast my bread upon the waters' and after many days my longing spirit was cheered with the knowledge that He had a work for me to do, and with Him, I know that all things are possible…[29]

Why would Joseph marry a young woman in her teens?

What is Presentism?

Imagine a school-child who asks why French knights didn't resist the English during the Battle of Agincourt (in 1415) using Sherman battle tanks. We might gently reply that there were no such tanks available. The child, a precocious sort, retorts that the French generals must have been incompetent, because everyone knows that tanks are necessary. The child has fallen into the trap of presentism—he has presumed that situations and circumstances in the past are always the same as the present. Clearly, there were no Sherman tanks available in 1415; we cannot in fairness criticize the French for not using something which was unavailable and unimagined.

Spotting such anachronistic examples of presentism is relatively simple. The more difficult problems involve issues of culture, behavior, and attitude. For example, it seems perfectly obvious to most twenty-first century North Americans that discrimination on the basis of race is wrong. We might judge a modern, racist politician quite harshly. We risk presentism, however, if we presume that all past politicians and citizens should have recognized racism, and fought it. In fact, for the vast majority of history, racism has almost always been present. Virtually all historical figures are, by modern standards, racists. To identify George Washington or Thomas Jefferson as racists, and to judge them as moral failures, is to be guilty of presentism.

A caution against presentism is not to claim that no moral judgments are possible about historical events, or that it does not matter whether we are racists or not. Washington and Jefferson were born into a culture where society, law, and practice had institutionalized racism. For them even to perceive racism as a problem would have required that they lift themselves out of their historical time and place. Like fish surrounded by water, racism was so prevalent and pervasive that to even imagine a world without it would have been extraordinarily difficult. We will not properly understand Washington and Jefferson, and their choices, if we simply condemn them for violating modern standards of which no one in their era was aware.

A textbook example of presentist history is the claim that Joseph engaged in "statuatory rape"

Condemning Joseph Smith for "statutory rape" is a textbook example of presentist history. "Rape," of course, is a crime in which the victim is forced into sexual behavior against her (or his) will. Such behavior has been widely condemned in ancient and modern societies. Like murder or theft, it arguably violates the moral conscience of any normal individual. It was certainly a crime in Joseph Smith's day, and if Joseph was guilty of forced sexual intercourse, it would be appropriate to condemn him.

(Despite what some claim, not all marriages or sealings were consummated, as in Helen's case discussed above.)

"Statutory rape," however, is a completely different matter. Statutory rape is sexual intercourse with a victim that is deemed too young to provide legal consent--it is rape under the "statute," or criminal laws of the nation. Thus, a twenty-year-old woman who chooses to have sex has not been raped. Our society has concluded, however, that a ten-year-old child does not have the physical, sexual, or emotional maturity to truly understand the decision to become sexually active. Even if a ten-year-old agrees to sexual intercourse with a twenty-year-old male, the male is guilty of "statutory rape." The child's consent does not excuse the adult's behavior, because the adult should have known that sex with a minor child is illegal.

Even in the modern United States, statutory rape laws vary by state. A twenty-year-old who has consensual sex with a sixteen-year-old in Alabama would have nothing to fear; moving to California would make him guilty of statutory rape even if his partner was seventeen.

By analogy, Joseph Smith likely owned a firearm for which he did not have a license--this is hardly surprising, since no law required guns to be registered on the frontier in 1840. It would be ridiculous for Hitchens to complain that Joseph "carried an unregistered firearm." While it is certainly true that Joseph's gun was unregistered, this tells us very little about whether Joseph was a good or bad man. The key question, then, is not "Would Joseph Smith's actions be illegal today?" Only a bigot would condemn someone for violating a law that had not been made.

Rather, the question should be, "Did Joseph violate the laws of the society in which he lived?" If Joseph did not break the law, then we might go on to ask, "Did his behavior, despite not being illegal, violate the common norms of conscience or humanity?" For example, even if murder was not illegal in Illinois, if Joseph repeatedly murdered, we might well question his morality.

Does the case of Helen mean Joseph was a "pedophile"?

"Pedophilia" applies to children; Helen was regarded as a mature young woman

Helen specifically mentioned that she was regarded as mature.[30] 'Pedophilia' is an inflammatory charge that refers to a sexual attraction to pre-pubertal children. It simply does not apply in the present case, even if the relationship had been consummated.

It is claimed by critics that the average age of menarche in 1840 was 16.4 years and that therefore Helen Mar Kimball was prepubescent when she was sealed to Joseph Smith at age 14

Critics of Mormonism claim that Helen Mar Kimball was prepubescent at the time that she was sealed to Joseph Smith, and that this is therefore evidence that Joseph was a pedophile. Pedophila describes a sexual attraction to prepubescent children. However, there is no evidence that Helen ever cohabited with or had sexual relations with Joseph. In fact, she continued to live with her parents after the sealing.

The use of the term "pedophilia" by critics in this situation is intended to generate a negative emotional response in the reader. Pedophiles don't advertise their obsession and they certainly don't discuss marriages with the parents of their intended victims. It was Heber C. Kimball that requested that this sealing be performed, not Joseph. There is no evidence that Joseph was a pedophile.

The age of menarche in America in 1840 has a normal distribution close to a mean of 15.2 years and a standard deviation of 1.85

European data indicates a long term linear drop, while US data is much more sparse. Using post-1910 data, Wyshak (1983) determined that the average age at menarche was dropping linearly at 3.2 month/decade with a value of 13.1 in 1920. This trend projects to 15.2 in 1840 and 16.3 in 1800. The onset of menarche follows a normal distribution that had a larger spread in the 19th century (σ≈1.7 to 2.0) in Brown (1966) and Laslett (1977).[31]

Helen Mar Kimball was likely married near the end of the month of May in 1843 and was thus approximately 14.8 years old when she was sealed to Joseph Smith. With only the statistics cited above we can conclude that 40% of the young women her age would have already matured and thus in their society be considered marriage eligible. If 40% is taken as an a priori probability, additional information puts maturity at her first marriage beyond a reasonable doubt using Bayesian methodology.

Helen and her contemporaries considered her mature for her age

Helen remembered transitioning from childhood to adulthood over a year before her first marriage as she attended social functions with older teens. Here is quote on the abruptness of this transition in the past from a graduate course's textbook on child development:

In industrial societies, as we have mentioned, the concept of adolescence as a period of development is quite recent. Until the early twentieth century, young people were considered children until they left school (often well before age 13), married or got a job, and entered the adult world. By the 1920s, with the establishment of comprehensive high schools to meet the needs of a growing economy and with more families able to support extended formal education for their children, the teenage years had become a distinct period of development (Keller, 1999). In some preindustrial societies, the concept of adolescence still does not exist. The Chippewa, for example, have only two periods of childhood: from birth until the child walks, and from walking to puberty. What we call adolescence is, for them, part of adulthood (Broude, 1995), as was true in societies before industrialization.[32]

Helen recalls that by March 1842, she "had grown up very fast and my father often took me out with him and for this reason was taken to be older than I was." At these social gatherings, she developed a crush on her future husband Horace Whitney. She later married him after Joseph Smith's martyrdom and her 16th birthday and had 12 children with him.

According to Helen:

Sarah Ann's brother, Horace, who was twenty months her senior, made one of the party but had never dreamed of such a thing as matrimony with me, whom he only remembered in the earliest school days in Kirtland as occupying one of the lowest seats. He becoming enough advanced, soon left the one taught in the red schoolhouse on the flat and attended a higher one on the hill, and through our moving to Missouri and Illinois we lost sight of each other. After the party was over I stopped the rest of the night with Sarah, and as her room and his were adjoining, being only separated by a partition, our talk seemed to disturb him, and he was impolite enough to tell us of it, and request us to stop and let him go to sleep, which was proof enough that he had never thought of me only as the green school girl that I was, or he would certainly have submitted gracefully (as lovers always should) to be made a martyr of.[33]

Evidence supports that Mormon teens did not marry until they had reached maturity.

Scholars that study fertility often divide large samples into cohorts which are 5 years wide based on birth year or marriage age . In contrast to what some critics claim, the marriage cohort of 15-19 year olds has been shown at times to be more fertile than the 20-24 cohort. The authors of one study found that "Unlike most other reported natural-fertility populations, period fertility rates for married Mormon women aged 15-19 are higher between 1870 and 1894 than those for married women in their 20s. Women aged 15-19 in 1870-74 would have been born in the 1850s when 55.8 percent were married before their 20th birthday; thus, this cannot be treated as an insignificant group." And also "In addition, the median interval between marriage and birth of the first child is consistently about one year for all age-at-marriage groups."[34] Another study disproved that younger marital age (15-19) resulted in a higher infant mortality rate due to the mother not being fully mature (termed the "biological-insufficiency hypothesis.").[35]

Helen continued to live with her parents after the sealing, and then married someone else and had children with them after Joseph's death

Helen continued to live with her parents after the sealing. After Joseph's death, Helen was married and had children.

Unlike today, it was acceptable to be sealed to one person for eternity while being married for time to another person. It is not known if this was the case with Helen, however.

Four Key Questions

We must, then, address four questions:

  1. What were the ages of Joseph's wives?
  2. Did Joseph have sexual intercourse with these women? If not, then the issue of statutory rape is moot. If so, we have not proven statutory rape, but can move on to the next question.
  3. What were the statutory rape laws of the time, and did Joseph violate them?
  4. If Joseph was not guilty of statutory rape, did he nevertheless violate common norms of conscience or society?

1. The Age of Joseph's Wives

Even LDS authors are not immune from presentist fallacies: Todd Compton, convinced that plural marriage was a tragic mistake, "strongly disapprove[s] of polygamous marriages involving teenage women." [36] This would include, presumably, those marriages which Joseph insisted were commanded by God. Compton notes, with some disapproval, that a third of Joseph's wives were under twenty years of age. The modern reader may be shocked. We must beware, however, of presentism—is it that unusual that a third of Joseph's wives would have been teenagers?

When we study others in Joseph's environment, we find that it was not. A sample of 201 Nauvoo-era civil marriages found that 33.3% were under twenty, with one bride as young as twelve. [37] Another sample of 127 Kirtland marriages found that nearly half (49.6%) were under twenty. [38] And, a computer-aided study of LDS marriages found that from 1835–1845, 42.3% of women were married before age twenty. [39] The only surprising thing about Joseph's one third is that more of his marriage partners were not younger.

Furthermore, this pattern does not seem to be confined to the Mormons (see Chart 12 1). A 1% sample from the 1850 U.S. census found 989 men and 962 who had been married in the last year. Teens made up 36.0% of married women, and only 2.3% of men; the average age of marriage was 22.5 for women and 27.8 for men. [40] Even when the men in Joseph's age range (34–38 years) in the U.S. Census are extracted, Joseph still has a lower percentage of younger wives and more older wives than non-members half a decade later. [41]

Chart 12-1 Chart 12-1.png

I suspect that Compton goes out of his way to inflate the number of young wives, since he lumps everyone between "14 to 20 years old" together. [42] It is not clear why this age range should be chosen—women eighteen or older are adults even by modern standards.

A more useful breakdown by age is found in Table 12-1. Rather than lumping all wives younger than twenty-one together (a third of all the wives), our analysis shows that only a fifth of the wives would be under eighteen. These are the only women at risk of statutory rape issues even in the modern era.

Table 12-1: Ages of Joseph's Wives [43]
Age range Percent (n=33)
14-17 21.2%
18-19 9.1%
20-29 27.3%
30-39 27.3%
40-49 3.0%
50-59 12.1%

2. Were there marital relations?

As shown elsewhere, the data for sexual relations in Joseph's plural marriages are quite scant (see Chapter 10—not online). For the purposes of evaluating "statutory rape" charges, only a few relationships are relevant.

The most prominent is, of course, Helen Mar Kimball, who was the prophet's youngest wife, married three months prior to her 15th birthday. [44] As we have seen, Todd Compton's treatment is somewhat confused, but he clarifies his stance and writes that "[a]ll the evidence points to this marriage as a primarily dynastic marriage." [45] Other historians have also concluded that Helen's marriage to Joseph was unconsummated. [46]

Nancy M. Winchester was married at age fourteen or fifteen, but we know nothing else of her relationship with Joseph. [47]

Flora Ann Woodruff was also sixteen at her marriage, and "[a]n important motivation" seems to have been "the creation of a bond between" Flora's family and Joseph. [48] We know nothing of the presence or absence of marital intimacy.

Fanny Alger would have been sixteen if Compton's date for the marriage is accepted. Given that I favor a later date for her marriage, this would make her eighteen. In either case, we have already seen how little reliable information is available for this marriage (see Chapter 4—not online), though on balance it was probably consummated.

Sarah Ann Whitney, Lucy Walker, and Sarah Lawrence were each seventeen at the time of their marriage. Here at last we have reliable evidence of intimacy, since Lucy Walker suggested that the Lawrence sisters had consummated their marriage with Joseph. Intimacy in Joseph's marriages may have been more rare than many have assumed—Walker's testimony suggested marital relations with the Partridge and Lawrence sisters, but said nothing about intimacy in her own marriage (see Chapter 10—not online).

Sarah Ann Whitney's marriage had heavy dynastic overtones, binding Joseph to faithful Bishop Orson F. Whitney. We know nothing of a sexual dimension, though Compton presumes that one is implied by references to the couple's "posterity" and "rights" of marriage in the sealing ceremony. [49] This is certainly plausible, though the doctrine of adoption and Joseph's possible desire to establish a pattern for all marriages/sealings might caution us against assuming too much.

Of Joseph's seven under-eighteen wives, then, only one (Lawrence) has even second-hand evidence of intimacy. Fanny Alger has third-hand hostile accounts of intimacy, and we know nothing about most of the others. Lucy Walker and Helen Mar Kimball seem unlikely candidates for consummation.

The evidence simply does not support Christopher Hitchens' wild claim, since there is scant evidence for sexuality in the majority of Joseph's marriages. Many presume that Joseph practiced polygamy to satisfy sexual longings, and with a leer suggest that of course Joseph would have consummated these relationships, since that was the whole point. Such reasoning is circular, and condemns Joseph's motives and actions before the evidence is heard.

Even were we to conclude that Joseph consummated each of his marriages—a claim nowhere sustained by the evidence—this would not prove that he acted improperly, or was guilty of "statutory rape." This requires an examination into the legal climate of his era.

3. Statutory Rape and the Law

The very concept of a fifteen- or seventeen-year-old suffering statutory rape in the 1840s is flagrant presentism. The age of consent under English common law was ten. American law did not raise the age of consent until the late nineteenth century, and in Joseph Smith's day only a few states had raised it to twelve. Delaware, meanwhile, lowered the age of consent to seven. [50]

In our time, legal minors can often be married before the age of consent with parental approval. Joseph certainly sought and received the approval of parents or male guardians for his marriages to Fanny Alger, Sarah Ann Whitney, Lucy Walker, and Helen Kimball. [51] His habit of approaching male relatives on this issue might suggest that permission was gained for other marriages about which we know less.

Clearly, then, Hitchens' attack is hopelessly presentist. None of Joseph's brides was near ten or twelve. And even if his wives' ages had presented legal risks, he often had parental sanction for the match.

4. Did Joseph violate societal norms?

There can be no doubt that the practice of polygamy was deeply offensive to monogamous, Victorian America. As everything from the Nauvoo Expositor to the latest anti-Mormon tract shows, the Saints were continually attacked for their plural marriages.

If we set aside the issue of plurality, however, the only issue which remains is whether it would have been considered bizarre, improper, or scandalous for a man in his mid-thirties to marry a woman in her mid- to late-teens. Clearly, Joseph's marriage to teen-age women was entirely normal for Mormons of his era. The sole remaining question is, were all these teen-age women marrying men their own age, or was marriage to older husbands also considered proper?

To my knowledge, the issue of age disparity was not a charge raised by critics in Joseph's day. It is difficult to prove a negative, but the absence of much comment on this point is probably best explained by the fact that plural marriage was scandalous, but marriages with teenage women were, if not the norm, at least not uncommon enough to occasion comment. For example, to disguise the practice of plural marriage, Joseph had eighteen-year-old Sarah Whitney pretend to marry Joseph Kingsbury, who was days away from thirty-one. [52] If this age gap would have occasioned comment, Joseph Smith would not have used Kingsbury as a decoy.

One hundred and eighty Nauvoo-era civil marriages have husbands and wives with known ages and marriage dates. [53] Chart 12 2 demonstrates that these marriages follow the general pattern of wives being younger than husbands.

Chart 12-2

Chart 12-2.png

When the age of husband is plotted against the age of each wife, it becomes clear that almost all brides younger than twenty married men between five and twenty years older (see Chart 12-3).

Chart 12-3

Chart 12-3.png

This same pattern appears in 879 marriages from the 1850 U.S. Census (see Chart 12 4). Non-Mormon age differences easily exceeded Joseph's except for age fourteen. We should not make too much of this, since the sample size is very small (one or two cases for Joseph; three for the census) and dynastic motives likely played a large role in Joseph's choice, as discussed above.

Chart 12-4 Chart 12-4.png

In short, Mormon civil marriage patterns likely mimicked those of their gentile neighbors. Neither Mormons or their critics would have found broad age differences to be an impediment to conjugal marriage. In fact, the age difference between wives and their husbands was greatest in the teen years, and decreased steadily until around Joseph's age, between 30–40 years, when the spread between spouses' ages was narrowest (note the bright pink bars in Chart 12-5).

Chart 12-5

Chart 12-5.png

As Thomas Hine, a non-LDS scholar of adolescence noted:

Until the twentieth century, adult expectations of young people were determined not by age but by size. If a fourteen-year-old looked big and strong enough to do a man's work on a farm or in a factory or mine, most people viewed him as a man. And if a sixteen-year-old was slower to develop and couldn't perform as a man, he wasn't one. For, young women, the issue was much the same. To be marriageable was the same as being read for motherhood, which was determined by physical development, not age....
The important thing, though, was that the maturity of each young person was judged individually. [54]

Why the modern world is different

Why did pre-modern peoples see nothing wrong with teen marriages? Part of the explanation likely lies in the fact that life-expectancy was greatly reduced compared to our time (see Table 12 2).

Table 12-2—Life Expectancy in the United States
Group Life Expect in 1850 (years) [55] Life Expect in 1901 (years) [56] Life Expect in 2004 (years) [57]
Males at birth 38.3 47.9 75.7
Males at age 20 60.1 62.0 76.6
Females at birth 40.5 50.7 80.8
Females at age 20 60.2 63.6 81.5

The modern era has also seen the "extension" of childhood, as many more years are spent in schooling and preparation for adult work. In the 1840s, these issues simply weren't in play for women—men needed to be able to provide for their future family, and often had the duties of apprenticeship which prevented early marriage. Virtually everything a woman needed to know about housekeeping and childrearing, however, was taught in the home. It is not surprising, then, that parents in the 1840s considered their teens capable of functioning as married adults, while parents in 2007 know that marriages for young teens will usually founder on issues of immaturity, under-employment, and lack of education.

Learn more about polygamy and marriage to young women
Key sources
  • Craig L. Foster, David Keller, and Gregory L. Smith, “The Age of Joseph Smith’s Plural Wives in Social and Demographic Context,” in The Persistence of Polygamy, eds. Newell G. Bringhurst and Craig L. Foster (Independence, MO: John Whitmer Books, 2010), 152–83.
Wiki links
Online
  • "Joseph Smith and Fanny Alger," BH Roberts Foundation print-link.
Navigators


Notes

  1. Lynn Hunt, "Against Presentism," (President's Column) Perspectives 40/5 (May 2002).
  2. This material was provided courtesy of Brian and Laura Hales.
  3. See Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, Plural Marriage as Taught by the Prophet Joseph: A Reply to Joseph Smith, Editor of the Lamoni Iowa "Herald" (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1882); Why We Practice Plural Marriage (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1840). Helen also kept a detailed journal throughout much of her life. See Charles M.Hatch and Todd M. Compton, eds., A Widow’s Tale: The 1884-1896 Diary of Helen Mar Kimball Whitney (Logan, UT: Utah State University Press, 2003).
  4. Typescript and copy of holograph reproduced in Jeni Broberg Holzapfel and Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, eds., A Woman’s View: Helen Mar Whitney’s Reminiscences of Early Church History (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1997), 482–87.
  5. Richard L. Anderson to Dawn Comfort, May 9–15, 1998, copy of letter in Scott H. Faulring Papers, box 93, fds 1–3, (accn 2316), Marriott Library.
  6. See discussion in Eugene E. Campbell, Establishing Zion: The Mormon Church in the American West 1847-1869 (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1988), 198n5.
  7. Michael Marquardt, The Rise of Mormonism: 1816–1844 (Longwood, FL: Xulon Press, 2005), 609.
  8. Woman’s Exponent 11, no. 12, November 15, 1882, 90; see Holzapfel and Holzapfel, eds., A Woman’s View, 224.
  9. Known colloquially as “Hedrickites” after Granville Hedrick, who was ordained the church’s first leader in 1863. They prefer the title of “Church of Christ (Temple Lot).”
  10. S. Patrick Baggette II, “The Temple Lot Case: Fraud in God’s Vineyard,” 136.
  11. The Church of Christ (Temple Lot) were staunchly opposed to plural marriage and seemed to have pursued polygamy as a line of inquiry only for strategic purposes. See R. Jean Addams, “The Church of Christ (Temple Lot) and the Reorganized Church of Latter Day Saints: 130 Years of Crossroads and Controversies,” Journal of Mormon History 36, no. 2 (2010): 29–53.
  12. The Temple Lot case transcript, as it is popularly known, comprises more than 1,700 pages. It can be accessed at https://archive.org/details/TempleLotCaseTranscript.
  13. Malissa Lott, Deposition, Temple Lot Transcript, Respondent’s Testimony, part 3, page 105, question 227; Lucy Walker, Deposition, Temple Lot Transcript, Respondent’s Testimony, part 3, pages 450–51, 468, 473, questions 29–30, 463–74, 586.
  14. Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, "Autobiography, 30 March 1881," MS 744, CHL. Typescript and copy of holograph reproduced in Holzapfel and Holzapfel, A Woman’s View, 482–87.
  15. "Helen Mar Kimball Whitney 1881 Autobiography," Appendix I in Helen Mar Whitney, A Woman's View: Helen Mar Whitney's Reminiscences of Early Church History, ed. Jeni Broberg Holzapfel and Richard Neitzel Holzapfel (Provo, Utah / Salt Lake City, Utah: BYU Religious Studies Center, distributed by Bookcraft, 1997), 486.
  16. Helen Mar Whitney, A Woman's View: Helen Mar Whitney's Reminiscences of Early Church History, ed. Jeni Broberg Holzapfel and Richard Neitzel Holzapfel (Provo, Utah / Salt Lake City, Utah: BYU Religious Studies Center, distributed by Bookcraft, 1997), 486–487.
  17. Helen Mar Whitney, Scenes and Incidents, 90. (italics added)
  18. Catherine Lewis, Narrative of Some of the Proceedings of the Mormons (Lynn, MA: n.p., 1848), 19.
  19. Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 195. ( Index of claims )
  20. George D. Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy: "...but we called it celestial marriage" (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2008), 202. ( Index of claims , (Detailed book review))
  21. Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, 2nd edition, (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 147.
  22. Richard S. Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 2005), 293. (Reviews)
  23. On Helen’s authentic statements, see Helen Mar Whitney, A Woman’s View: Helen Mar Whitney’s Reminiscences of Early Church History, ed. Jeni Broberg Holzapfel and Richard Neitzel Holzapfel (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1997), ix–xliii.
  24. See "Helen Mar Kimball" at http://josephsmithspolygamy.org/plural-wives-overview/helen-mar-kimball/
  25. George D. Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy
  26. Todd M. Compton, "Response to Tanners," post to LDS Bookshelf mailing list (no date), http://www.lds-mormon.com/compton.shtml (accessed 2 December 2008). Compare with Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy, 198–202, 302, 362 and Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 14.)
  27. Stanley B. Kimball, Heber C. Kimball: Mormon Patriarch and Pioneer (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1981), 98. See also Stanley B. Kimball, "Heber C. Kimball and Family, the Nauvoo Years," Brigham Young University Studies 15/4 (Summer 1975): 465.
  28. Augusta Joyce Crocheron (author and complier), Representative Women of Deseret, a book of biographical sketches to accompany the picture bearing the same title (Salt Lake City: J. C. Graham & Co., 1884).
  29. Augusta Joyce Crocheron (author and complier), Representative Women of Deseret, a book of biographical sketches to accompany the picture bearing the same title (Salt Lake City: J. C. Graham & Co., 1884).
  30. [citation needed]
  31. Craig L. Foster, David Keller, and Gregory L. Smith, “The Age of Joseph Smith’s Plural Wives in Social and Demographic Context,” in The Persistence of Polygamy, eds. Newell G. Bringhurst and Craig L. Foster (Independence, MO: John Whitmer Books, 2010), 152–83. The authors cite Grace Wyshak "Secular changes in age at menarche in a sample of US women," Annals of Human Biology 10:1 (1983): 75–77; P. E. Brown, “The Age at Menarche,” British Journal of Preventive and Social Medicine 20 (1966): 9–14; and Peter Laslett, Family life and Illicit Love in Earlier Generations (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1977).
  32. Diane Papalia, Gabriela Martorell, and R. Feldman, In A Child's World: Infancy through Adolescence, 13th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 2014).
  33. Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, 1828-1896, Autobiography (c. 1839-1846), "Life Incidents," Woman's Exponent 9-10 (1880-1882) and "Scenes and Incidents in Nauvoo," Woman's Exponent 11 (1882-83)) off-site
  34. Mineau, G. P., L. L. Bean, and M. Skolnick 1979 “Mormon demographic history, II: The family life cycle and natural fertility,” Population Studies 33, 3:429–46.
  35. L. Bean, G. Mineau, and D. Anderton, "High-Risk Childbearing: Fertility and Infant Mortality on the American Frontier," Social Science History 16, no. 3 (1992): 337–63.
  36. Todd M. Compton, Response to Tanners, post to LDS Bookshelf mailing list, no date. (15 May 2005).
  37. Susan Easton Black, "Marriages in the Nauvoo Region 1839-1845," on-line database, using sources: Lyndon W. Cook, Civil Marriages in Nauvoo and some outlying areas (1839-1845) (Liberty Publishing Co., 1980); with additional data from Times and Seasons, The Wasp, Nauvoo Neighbor, and "A Record of Marriages in the City of Nauvoo," located at the Historical Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. <http://www.worldvitalrecords.com/indexinfo.aspx?ix=usa_il_nauvoo_marriages> I am indebted to David Keller, who performed the initial data extraction, and saved me hours of work by sharing his raw data files.
  38. Kirtland marriage data from Milton V. Backman, Jr. with Keith Perkins and Susan Easton, "A profile of Latter-day Saints of Kirtland, Ohio and members of Zion's Camp 1830–1839 : vital statistics and sources," complied in cooperation with the Department of Church History and Doctrine, Brigham Young University, in Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah. The indefatigable David Keller also provided me with this data.
  39. M. Skolnick, L. Bean, D. May, V. Arbon, K. De Nevers and P. Cartwright, "Mormon Demographic History I. Nuptiality and Fertility of Once-Married Couples," Populations Studies 32 (1978): 14, table 3. off-site I appreciate John Gee bringing this reference to my attention.
  40. Data from Steven Ruggles, Matthew Sobek, Trent Alexander, Catherine A. Fitch, Ronald Goeken, Patricia Kelly Hall, Miriam King, and Chad Ronnander, Integrated Public Use Microdata Series: Version 3.0 [Machine-readable database]. Minneapolis, MN: Minnesota Population Center [producer and distributor] (2004), accessed 14 July 2007. <http://usa.ipums.org/usa/> I'm grateful to David Keller for sharing the raw data with me.
  41. The U.S. Census data included marriages within the last year since the census, so some marriages could have occurred prior to the wife's recorded birthday. Presumably this effect would be equally distributed throughout the year—to adjust for this, the data was convolved via a moving average. This did not materially affect the data plots; see Appendix 1 for both versions of the Nauvoo data plotted. My thanks to David Keller for discussions and help with the statistics.
  42. Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 11. ( Index of claims )
  43. Despite debates about whether all these wives should be included, I have simply used the data from Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 4–7. ( Index of claims ) If a marriage date is uncertain, I have used the earliest possible age.
  44. B. Carmon Hardy, Works of Abraham, 48; Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 6.
  45. Todd M. Compton, Response to Tanners, post to LDS Bookshelf mailing list, no date. (Accessed 15 May 2005).
  46. See Stanley B. Kimball, "Heber C. Kimball and Family, the Nauvoo Years," Brigham Young University Studies 15/4 (Summer 1975): 465; see also Richard Lloyd Anderson and Scott H. Faulring, "The Prophet Joseph Smith and His Plural Wives (Review of In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith)," FARMS Review of Books 10/2 (1998): 67–104; citing Stanley B. Kimball, Heber C. Kimball: Mormon Patriarch and Pioneer (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1981), 98.
  47. Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 606.
  48. Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 390.
  49. Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 347–349.
  50. Melina McTigue, "Statutory Rape Law Reform in Nineteenth Century Maryland: An Analysis of Theory and Practical Change," (2002), (accessed 5 Feb 2005). < http://www.law.georgetown.edu/glh/mctigue.htm>
  51. Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 31–33, 347–349, 464, 497–502.
  52. Kingsbury was born 2 May 1812, and "married" Sarah Whitney on 29 April 1843.
  53. Of 883 married individuals, there were 219 men and 201 women with exact birth and marriage dates. Of these, 180 marriages were identified in which the husband and wife's birth date was known. I matched these couples for data analysis. Since it is not clear how many of these marriages were first marriages, these data represents a conservative estimate of teen-age marriage in Nauvoo in the early 1840s. If second marriages were excluded, there would likely be an even greater percentage of teen marriages. The data is again from Susan Easton Black, "Marriages in the Nauvoo Region 1839–1845," op. cit. as originally extracted by David Keller.
  54. Thomas Hine, The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager: A New History of the American Adolescent Experience (HarperCollins, 1999), 16.
  55. These data are from Massachusetts only; U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Historical Statistics of the United States, on-line at < http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0005140.html> (accessed 10 December 2007).
  56. James W. Glover, United States Life Tables: 1890, 1901, 1910, and 1901–1910 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, 1921), 56, 60, tables 3, 5; on-line at <http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/lifetables/life1890-1910.pdf > (accessed 10 December 2007).
  57. U.S. Center for Disease Control, National Vital Statistics Reports 55/19 (21 August 2007): 25–26, tables 7–8, < http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr55/nvsr55_19.pdf> (accessed 10 December 2007). The figures used are for whites.

Response to claim: 255 - "Would Mormons living in today's society follow as their prophet a man who was known to be a money digger and advocate of folk magic?"

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

The authors state,

For instance, would Mormons living in today's society follow as their prophet a man who was known to be a money digger and advocate of folk magic? According to Quinn, Smith and his family were well versed in such things: Joseph Smith...had unquestionably participated in treasure seeking and seer stone divination and had apparently also used divining rods, talismans, and implements of ritual magic.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The spin: The authors are guilty of "presentism".
  1. REDIRECTJoseph Smith and money digging#Was Joseph Smith's participation in "money digging" as a youth a blot on his character?

Response to claim: 255 - "The fact that Smith owned a Jupiter talisman shows that his fascination with the occult was not just a childish fad"

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

The authors bring up magic again,

The fact that Smith owned a Jupiter talisman shows that his fascination with the occult was not just a childish fad. At the time of his death, Smith had on his person this talisman...

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The mistake: It is not a proven fact that Joseph even owned a Jupiter talisman.The facts: The talisman, or "silver pocket piece" as described in 1937, appeared on a list of items purportedly own by Joseph Smith which were to be sold by Charles Bidamon. Bidamon waited fifty-eight years after Emma’s death to make his certification, and notes that at the time of her death he was only fifteen years old.


<onlyinclude>

  1. REDIRECTJoseph Smith and folk magic or the occult

<onlyinclude>

  1. REDIRECTJoseph Smith and folk magic or the occult

Response to claim: 256 - "Despite what may have been written about him, it is evident that Smith had an ego and expected to be followed without question"

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

The authors claim that "[t]here is no question that many Mormon historians have painted Smith as a man of high morals and impeccable integrity. Any reports to the contrary are often assumed to have been made by enemies of the church or disgruntled ex-Mormons. Despite what may have been written about him, it is evident that Smith had an ego and expected to be followed without question."

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The spin: Interestingly the authors seem to have no problem citing "LDS" and "Mormon" authorities to construct an entire chapter of "contraries." Is the reader to conclude that every single "LDS" or "Mormon" historian that they cite is an enemy or apostate?The facts: The authors state that despite what may have been written about Joseph, he remains an egotist that controlled his people. Do Mormon leaders control the faithful and expect to be followed without question? There are several examples that show just the opposite expectation. Brigham Young, quoting Joseph Smith, said:

The question was asked a great many times of Joseph Smith, by gentlemen who came to see him and his people, 'How is it that you can control your people so easily? It appears that they do nothing but what you say; how is it that you can govern them so easily?' Said he, 'I do not govern them at all. The Lord has revealed certain principles from the heavens by which we are to live in these latter days. The time is drawing near when the Lord is going to cut short his work in righteousness, and the principles which he has revealed I have taught to the people and they are trying to live according to them, and they control themselves.' Gentlemen, this is the great secret now in controlling this people. It is thought that I control them, but it is not so. It is as much as I can do to control myself and to keep myself straight and teach the people the principles by which they should live.[1]

Response to claim: 257 - The authors claim that Joseph Smith was boastful

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

The authors claim Joseph was boastful when he said,

I have more to boast of than ever any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such a work as I.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The mistake: The authors omit the context of Joseph's statement, in which he was emulating something said by the Apostle Paul.
#REDIRECTJoseph Smith's alleged narcissism#Was Joseph Smith prone to boasting?
  1. REDIRECTJoseph Smith's alleged narcissism#Did Joseph Smith believe that he was better than Jesus Christ?

Response to claim: 258 - The authors use a quote from Brigham Young and from Joseph Field Smith to "prove" that Joseph is the gateway to the Celestial Kingdom

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

The authors use a quote from Brigham Young and from Joseph Field Smith to "prove" that Joseph is the gateway to the Celestial Kingdom,

Young stated that entrance into the celestial kingdom was conditional on Smith's consent. "No man or woman in this dispensation will ever enter into the celestial kingdom of God without the consent of Joseph Smith. 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."

President Joseph Fielding Smith affirmed this, saying that nobody could reject this "testimony without incurring the most dreadful consequences, for he cannot enter the kingdom of God."

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The mistake: The idea that one would require Joseph Smith's consent to enter the celestial kingdom is not Church doctrine.The facts: The Book of Mormon confirms that no mortal's role in the judgment supersedes the role given to Jesus Christ. Even if he has a role in the judgement, his participation in the judgment is no more or less than the role assigned to the Lord's apostles at the Last Supper.

Question: What is the origin of the idea that Joseph Smith will participate in the final judgement?

Response to claim: 258-259 - The authors claim that Latter-day Saints believe that Joseph will save them

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

The authors claim that Latter-day Saints believe that Joseph will save them,

Christians throughout the centuries have pointed to Jesus Christ as the only way to eternal life, Mormon leaders have taught that Joseph Smith will apparently be a deciding factor as well"... "The Bible clearly states that every person-both believer and non-believer-will be judged by Jesus, not Joseph! There is no hint that somebody like Smith would assist in the judgment.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The mistake: Latter-day Saints do not believe that Joseph Smith will "save" them.The facts: There is little doubt that through reading the Bible and rest of the Standard Works of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that we all will stand before the great judgment bar of God.


Articles about Joseph Smith

Must Joseph Smith approve anyone who gets into heaven?

Critics claim that Joseph claimed to be the judge of who received salvation (or that later leaders claimed this for him).

As a result, some critics have even charged that "Mormons worship Joseph Smith."

Jesus is the judge

No mortal's role in the judgment supersedes the role given to Jesus, as the Book of Mormon bears witness: "The keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate; for he cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name."(2 Nephi 9꞉41.)

Apostles have a role in judgment

Joseph's participation in the judgment (at the command and sufferance of Jesus) is no more or less than the role assigned to the Lord's apostles. At the Last Supper, Jesus taught that: "Ye [the apostles] are they which have continued with me in my temptations. And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me; that ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel."(Luke 22꞉28-30; see also Matthew 19꞉28.)

A similar promise to participate in the judgment of those among whom they were called to serve was given to the twelve Nephite Disciples (see 1 Nephi 12꞉9-10). This principle is also reiterated in modern revelation (see D&C 29꞉12).

Similarly, Brigham Young stated:

Joseph Smith holds the keys of this last dispensation, and is now engaged behind the vail in the great work of the last days...no man or woman in this dispensation will ever enter into the celestial kingdom of God without the consent of Joseph Smith.... I will now tell you something that ought to comfort every man and woman on the face of the earth. Joseph Smith, junior, will again be on this earth dictating plans and calling forth his brethren to be baptized for the very characters who wish this was not so, in order to bring them into a kingdom to enjoy...he will never cease his operations, under the directions of the Son of God, until the last ones of the children of men are saved that can be, from Adam till now.... It is his mission to see that all the children of men in this last dispensation are saved, that can be, through the redemption.[2]

Clearly, Joseph's role is to function under the "direction...of the Son of God," and the primary goal is the salvation of all who will accept any degree of Christ and Joseph's witness of Him.

Conclusion

Members of the Church reserve their worship for God the Father, in the name of Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Ghost. They do not worship Joseph Smith or any other mortal. Joseph Smith's position is analogous to the role which Peter or Paul plays in traditional creedal Christianity.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie stated:

Salvation is in Christ. There is no other by whom it comes. He is the Redeemer of men and the Savior of the world. He alone worked out the infinite and eternal atonement whereby all men are raised in immortality while those who believe and obey are raised also unto eternal life. "Salvation was, and is, and is to come, in and through the atoning blood of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent." None other has ever lived on earth, none other now lives among us, and none other will ever breathe the breath of life who can compare with him. None other, among all the billions of our Father's children, will ever deserve such eternal praise as all the hosts of heaven heap upon him. Yea, "There shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent." (Mosiah 3:17-18.)

But Christ and his laws can be known only by revelation. His gospel must come from heaven or remain forever unknown. And his word must go forth by the mouths of his servants the prophets, or the message will never be heard. Christ calls prophets. They represent him. Their voice is his voice; their words are his words; and they say what he would say if he were personally present. "I am the vine, ye are the branches," he says to his legal representatives on earth. "He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing." (John 15:5.)

And thus, for this dispensation of grace, we come to Joseph Smith. He was called of God to reveal anew the doctrines of salvation. He was called of God to stand as the Lord's legal administrator, dispensing salvation to all men—repeat: all men—in the last days. Christ is the True Vine; Joseph Smith is the chief branch for our day. Moroni told him that his "name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people." (JS-H 1:33.) And as the Prophet, years later, suffered in the jail at Liberty, Missouri, for the testimony of Jesus and the love of the Lord that was his, the voice of the Lord comforted him with these words: "The ends of the earth shall inquire after thy name, and fools shall have thee in derision, and hell shall rage against thee; While the pure in heart, and the wise, and the noble, and the virtuous, shall seek counsel, and authority, and blessings constantly from under thy hand." (D&C 122:1-2.)

And thus, all men—every living soul who has lived or shall live on earth between the spring of 1820 and that glorious future day when the Son of God shall return to reign personally on earth—all men in the latter days must turn to Joseph Smith to gain salvation. Why? The answer is clear and plain; let it be spoken with seven thunders. He alone can bring them the gospel; he alone can perform for them the ordinances of salvation and exaltation; he stands, as have all the prophets of all the ages in their times and seasons, in the place and stead of the Heavenly One in administering salvation to men on earth....

[335] We do not pretend to have authority and gospel knowledge because we read in holy writ that those anciently were so endowed. Ours is a modern commission; ours is a present-day power; the message we declare has been revealed anew to us. That it conforms to the ancient word is apparent, for it is the same gospel given again....

[338] The Lord sends men to match the message, and Joseph Smith, as a revealer of Christ and a restorer of eternal truth, has been the instrument in the hands of the Lord of preparing the way before him.[3]

Elder McConkie's intent is clear—salvation is only through Christ, and Christ can only be known through prophets, and only legal administrators can perform the necessary ordinances. Thus, to come to Christ, one must use what Joseph Smith offers. But, this is not to say that Joseph is the source of salvation, or that we must turn to Joseph in preference to Jesus. Joseph simply provides what we need so that we can completely turn to Jesus and receive all that He wishes to give us.


Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Notes

  1. Discourses of Brigham Young, edited by John A. Widtsoe (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1954), 470.
  2. Brigham Young, "Intelligence, etc.," (9 October 1859) Journal of Discourses 7:289-289.
  3. Bruce R. McConkie, Millennial Messiah: The Second Coming of the Son of Man (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1982), 333–335, 338.

Response to claim: 261 - "It should come as no surprise that among the many excuses Mormons have raised for the failure of Smith's Missouri predictions, few admit it was due to his lack of prophetical insight"

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

The authors claim evidence of failed prophecies,

[Smith's] followers were forced to leave Missouri...It should come as no surprise that among the many excuses Mormons have raised for the failure of Smith's Missouri predictions, few admit it was due to his lack of prophetical insight.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The spin: It is important to understand the context in which "historians" are quoted for a proper understanding of their material. Interestingly, the authors freely called upon dead "LDS historian Andrew Jenson" for an earlier quote in their chapter that served to question the truthfulness of Joseph as a prophet. That quote had nothing to do with the context of Jenson's talk. His entire lecture was on proving that Joseph was in fact a prophet of God by describing numerous instances of fulfilled prophecies and other such witnesses to the truthfulness of his call. The authors ignore the fact that Jenson, in his 110-year-old Friday-evening lecture to the Student's Society, illustrated how Smith's predictions were proof of his "prophetical insight."The facts: Ironically, Jenson uses Missouri as one proof of Joseph's "prophetical insight." Jenson states:

In 1831 the Saints were commanded to gather to Jackson County, Mo., which was designated as a land of inheritance for the Saints in the last days, and also as the identical spot where they should build that great city, the New Jerusalem, about which the ancient Prophets and Saints had sung, prayed and rejoiced so much. Joseph Smith had just arrived in that goodly land, together with a number of his brethren, when a revelation, containing some very strange sayings was given on the 1st of August, 1831.[1]

Jenson then relates D&C 58꞉1-5, wherein the Lord talks of the land they had just arrived in and speaks of "much tribulation" and blessings to those that remain faithful after that which is to follow. Jenson points out that if Joseph was a fraud attempting to make financial gain or seeking the vain glory and honor of men, then it would be pretty absurd to be predicting trouble when there was none immediately apparent. In less than three years after this revelation, the Saints were driven out of Jackson County and three years after that they were forced from Clay County, Missouri, then two more years later the Governor issued an extermination order driving them from the State of Missouri. If McKeever and Johnson do not think this means "much tribulation," then what, as Jenson states, does it mean?

Response to claim: 262 - "Smith attempted to flee into Iowa and ultimately to the Rockies. While waiting for horses, his wife Emma sent him a message stating that the Latter-day Saints were accusing Smith of cowardice and urged him to return. Smith did so"

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

The authors now attempt to cast doubt on Joseph's status as a martyr for his beliefs,

Knowing full well that he would be in great danger by placing himself in the hands of his enemies, Smith attempted to flee into Iowa and ultimately to the Rockies. While waiting for horses, his wife Emma sent him a message stating that the Latter-day Saints were accusing Smith of cowardice and urged him to return. Smith did so.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The spin: Was Joseph a coward? Joseph and Hyrum returned to Carthage for reasons that the authors omit from their narration. Joseph was, and always had been, willing to die for his faith, his God, and his people.The facts: Danel Bachman, illustrating this willingness, cited an 1838 incident when Joseph and Hyrum were in the hands of their enemies and were sentenced to be executed. Did he resist? No! Joseph, speaking of his feelings at the time said:

As far as I was concerned, I felt perfectly calm, and resigned to the will of my heavenly Father.... And notwithstanding that every avenue of escape seemed to be entirely closed, and death stared me in the face, and that my destruction was determined upon, as far as man was concerned; yet, from my first entrance into the camp, I felt an assurance, that I with my brethren and our families should be delivered. Yes, that still small voice, which has so often whispered consolation to my soul, in the depth of sorrow and distress, bade me be of good cheer, and promised deliverance.

For a detailed response, see: Joseph Smith/Martyrdom

Response to claim: 262 - "After dinner, Smith and several church officials ordered some wine to be brought to the jail"

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

The authors which to emphasize that Joseph drank wine at Carthage,

After dinner, Smith and several church officials ordered some wine to be brought to the jail.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The spin: The authors lead the reader to think that Joseph and his associates sat around drinking wine all night. The fact that the History of the Church mentions the wine so matter-of-factly should warn us that circumstances were different, and neither current or later Church leaders or members saw this as something that would make Joseph look bad.[2]The facts: Joseph's final night consisted of testimony, study, and prophecy. The record reads:

During the evening the Patriarch Hyrum Smith read and commented upon extracts from the Book of Mormon, on the imprisonments and deliverance of the servants of God for the Gospel's sake. Joseph bore a powerful testimony to the guards of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon, restoration of the Gospel, the administration of angels, and that the kingdom of God was again established upon the earth, for the sake of which he was then incarcerated in that prison, and not because he had violated any law of God or man.[3]:600

Later that night we read:

Soon after Dr. Richards retired to the bed which Joseph had left, and when all were apparently fast asleep, Joseph whispered to Dan Jones, "are you afraid to die?" Dan said, "Has that time come, think you?" "Engaged in such a cause I do not think that death would have many terrors." Joseph replied, "You will yet see Wales, and fulfill the mission appointed you before you die."[3]:601

In fulfillment of this prophecy, Dan Jones fulfilled two missions to Wales and was an instrument in bringing nearly one thousand people into the church.


Question: Did Joseph Smith violate the Word of Wisdom by drinking alcohol in Carthage Jail before he was killed?

The wine is mentioned clearly in the History of the Church: Why would leaders include this information if it made Joseph look bad?

Joseph Smith drank alcohol in Carthage Jail prior to being martyred. Doesn't this make Joseph Smith a hypocrite for violating the Word of Wisdom?

We are sometimes guilty of "presentism"—judging historical figures by the standards of our day, instead of their day. We note that the wine is mentioned clearly in the History of the Church. Why would leaders include this information if it made Joseph look bad? This should be our first clue that something else is going on.[4]

John Taylor: "we sent for some wine. It has been reported by some that this was taken as a sacrament. It was no such thing; our spirits were generally dull and heavy, and it was sent for to revive us"

Consider also that drinking water in Joseph Smith's day (or during Biblical times) was a gamble because water purity was always questionable; a little alcohol in a beverage ensured that it was free of viruses and bacteria. The development of germ theory in the late 19th century lead to chemical treatments to ensure a safe supply of public drinking water. A strict ban of all alcohol in Joseph Smith's time would have been a death sentence for many Latter-day Saints—especially during the 1832–1833 cholera pandemic, which spread its disease by water.

Alcohol was also considered a medicinal substance, and was used with that purpose well into the 19th century. Thus, some wine or brandy use would be seen as "medicinal," rather than "recreational."[5] This perspective is likely reflected in John Taylor's later account of the events at Carthage:

Sometime after dinner we sent for some wine. It has been reported by some that this was taken as a sacrament. It was no such thing; our spirits were generally dull and heavy, and it was sent for to revive us. I think it was Captain Jones who went after it, but they would not suffer him to return. I believe we all drank of the wine, and gave some to one or two of the prison guards. We all of us felt unusually dull and languid, with a remarkable depression of spirits. In consonance with those feelings I sang a song, that had lately been introduced into Nauvoo, entitled, 'A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief', etc.[6]:101

Alcohol was thought to be useful as a stimulant to restore both mood and energy

In a medicinal context, alcohol was thought to be useful as a stimulant to restore both mood and energy. As one history noted:

There was a wide spectrum of views on its use in medicine. At one extreme were those who felt that as alcohol was a stimulant, it should be beneficial in all disease states....A problem for doctors was reconciling that brandy (the most commonly used form of alcohol) seemed to have both stimulant and sedative effects. However it is clear that the emergency use of brandy was as a stimulant [and such use continued into the twentieth century]....For lesser conditions, tonics were much used as stimulants and alcohol was the basis of many of these, the alcohol concentration of which was often greater than that of wine....[5]

In the twenty-first century, a member who used morphine by injection to get high would be regarded as in violation of the Word of Wisdom. But, if they used it under a physician's supervision for a recognized condition for which its use was appropriate, that would be considered in harmony with the Word of Wisdom. Cancer patients, for example, do not lose their temple recommends simply because they require morphine. In a similar way, Joseph and his companions' use of wine prior to the martyrdom obviously did not trouble him or his contemporaries, because they understood their era's medical context.


Response to claim: 262 - The authors claim that Joseph's use of a gun disqualifies him as a martyr

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

The authors claim that Joseph's use of a gun disqualifies him as a martyr.

Smith was visited by Cyrus H. Wheelock who, as he was about to leave, "drew a small pistol, a six-shooter from his pocket, remarking at the same time, 'Would any of you like to have this?"' The narrative states that Smith "immediately replied, 'Yes, give it to me."' He then proceeded to take the pistol and put it into his pants pocket.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The mistake: There is no question Joseph intended to defend himself and his friends, as was his right. As to the details that shed light on his acquisition of the weapon, another narrative from the History of the Church paints a different and clearer picture than the one the authors present.The facts: The account reads:

The morning being a little rainy, [Wheelock] favored his wearing an overcoat, in the side pocket of which he was enabled to carry a six shooter, and he passed the guard unmolested. During his visit in the prison he slipped the revolver into Joseph's pocket. Joseph examined it, and asked Wheelock if he had not better retain it for his own protection... Joseph then handed the single barrel pistol which had been given him by John S. Fullmer, to his brother Hyrum, and said, 'You may have use for this.' Brother Hyrum observed, 'I hate to use such things or to see them used.' 'So do I,' said Joseph, 'but we may have to, to defend ourselves;' upon this Hyrum took the pistol.[3]:243 [7]


Articles about Joseph Smith

Was Joseph a martyr?

Is it possible that Joseph Smith is not a martyr because, while in jail, he had a gun and he had the temerity to defend himself, his brother, and his friends?

Joseph and Hyrum were martyrs by the accepted definition of the term—they suffered death for their beliefs

It seems clear that:

  1. Joseph and Hyrum were martyrs by the accepted definition of the term—they suffered death for their beliefs. (Note that martyrs can die for worthy or ignoble causes, but this makes them no less martyrs.)
  2. The Church has not hidden this fact, but published it from the beginning and includes it in the History of the Church twice.
  3. Joseph was not guilty of murder, because no one died from his shots, and his actions would have been justifiable as self-defense and defense of others even if deaths had resulted.


Critics of Joseph Smith redefine the term "martyr"

Ensign (June 2013): 40, shows Joseph with the pepperbox pistol he would fire to defend himself and others prior to his murder.

In order to make their argument tenable, the critics must do three things. First, they must take some creative liberties with the English language. In this case, the word being redefined is the term martyr. Webster’s New World Dictionary defines a "martyr" as

"a person who chooses to suffer or die rather than give up his faith or his principles."[8]

The online resource, Dictionary.com, defines a martyr as

"one who chooses to suffer death rather than renounce religious principles."[9]

Both are nearly identical and fairly standard definitions, and neither includes a requirement or qualifiers of any sort. However, some anti-Mormon writers have taken the term martyr and subtly changed its definition to suit their own needs. The new definition would probably read something like this: Martyr: a person who chooses to suffer or die rather than give up his faith or his principles without any resistance or effort at self-defense on his part whatsoever.

Critics are free to use such a definition, but it belongs to them alone; it is not the standard use of the word, and not what Church members mean when they refer to the "martyrdom" of Joseph and Hyrum Smith at Carthage.

Throughout Christian history, "martyrs" have been understood to be those who suffered quietly, and those who resisted, even with violence, and even to the death of those who persecuted them for their beliefs.

The first anti-Mormon argument thus focuses on the fact that Joseph had a firearm and that he used that firearm to defend himself. Is it possible that Joseph's announcement that he was going "as a lamb to the slaughter" is false, since he fought back?

Anyone who has ever worked on a farm or in a slaughterhouse knows that sheep do not go willingly to the slaughter. They kick and buck, bleat, scream, and make every attempt to escape their fate. In fact, they make such a haunting sound, that the title of an extremely popular Hollywood film was based on it: The Silence of the Lambs. The term "lamb to the slaughter" simply refers to the inevitability of the final outcome. No matter how valiantly they struggle, the fate of the sheep is sealed. If we apply this understanding to Joseph Smith and his brother, it is clear that they truly were slaughtered like lambs. Fight as they might, they were doomed.

Martyrdom in Christian history

Summary: Christians have never required someone to go passively and unresisting to their death to be considered a martyr.

Joseph Smith's qualification as a martyr

Summary: By any reasonable definition, Joseph and Hyrum were martyrs for their faith.

Has the Church tried to hide the fact that Joseph fired a pepperbox pistol at the mob which murdered him?

Joseph's gun is on display at the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City, where anyone can see it. It has been there for years

Some claim that the Church has tried to hide the fact that Joseph fired a pepperbox pistol at the mob which murdered Hyrum and was soon to kill him.

Ensign (June 2013): 40, shows Joseph with the pepperbox pistol he would fire to defend himself and others prior to his murder.

Joseph's gun is on display at the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City, where anyone can see it. It has been there for years.

Both official and unofficial Church publications have repeatedly mentioned Joseph's pistol since his death

There is overwhelming evidence that from the earliest days following the martyrdom, to the present, that both official and unofficial Church publications have repeatedly mentioned Joseph's pistol.

Photograph of the pistols used by Joseph and Hyrum. The pepperbox pistol fired by Joseph Smith at Carthage Jail is located on the right. From the museum of Church History in Salt Lake City, Utah, and labeled as such. Photo (c) Blair Hodges, used with permission. Another image of the pepperbox pistol may be viewed here

From the very beginning of the Church, Joseph's possession and use of a pepperbox pistol in defense of himself and his brother and friends has been repeatedly mentioned. This includes statements by LDS, anti-Mormon, and other secular sources even from a very early period, demonstrating that there was no attempt to hide the facts.

1844
  • George T. M. Davis, of Alton, Illinois, An Authentic Account of the Massacre of Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet, and Hyram Smith, his brother, together with a Brief History of the Rise and Progress of Mormonism, and all the circumstances which led to their death (St. Louis 1844); also quoted in "The Mormons, or Latter Day Saints", The United States Catholic Magazine 4 (1845): 362-3.
  • Brooklyn Eagle, July 8, 1844, page 2
  • Willard Richards, "Two Minutes in Jail", in Times and Seasons 5/14 (1 August 1844): 597-98
  • A True and Descriptive Account of the Assassination of Joseph and Hiram Smith, the Mormon Prophet and Patriarch At Carthage, Illinois, June 27th, 1844, By an Eye Witness, T[HOMAS]. A. LYNE (NY: 1844): 9-10.
1845
  • "Mormonerna, en beväpnad religionssekt i de Förenta Staterna," Borgå Tidning, [Porvoo, Finland] August 20, 1845, p. 1-4, and August 23, 1845, p. 2-3. English translations by this author [Kim Ostman, Finland 2006: "The Mormons, an armed religious sect in the United States."]. According to a footnote, the article comes from Wilhelm Grisson’s original text "Beiträge zur Charakteristik der Vereinigten Staaten von Nordamerika."
1846
  • James Allen Scott Journal., 19 April 1846; quoted in Richard Bennett, Mormons at the Missouri (U of Oklahoma 1987): 236, note 20.
1851
  • James Linforth, "The Rev. C.W. Lawrence’s ‘Few Words from a Pastor to his People on the subject of the Latter-day Saints,’ replied to and refuted". (no date [contains reference to Millennial Star 13.4 (Feb 15, 1851); my copy bound with MS volume 12, in U of Minnesota Library]; published by J. Sadler, Liverpool): 2.
1852
  • J. M. Grant, The Truth for the Mormons ‘Three Letters to the New York Herald’’ 64 pages.
  • History of the Persecutions!! Endured by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in America. Compiled from Public Documents, and Drawn from Authentic Sources. By C. W. Wandell, Minister of the Gospel (Sydney: Albert Mason 1852). 55.
1854
  • Thomas Ford, History of Illinois, 1818-1847 (Chicago, 1854), 354-5. "An attempt was made to break open the door; but Joe Smith being armed with a six-barrelled pistol, furnished by his friends, fired several times as the door was bursted open, and wounded three of the assailants…."
  • Benjamin G. Ferris, Utah and the Mormons. The History, Government, Doctrines, Customs and Prospects of the Latter-day Saints. From personal observation during a six months’ residence at Great Salt Lake City (New York: 1854).
  • The Californian Crusoe; or, The Last Treasure Found. A Tale of Mormonism (London: John Henry Parker 1854; New York: Stanford and Swords): 98.
  • Joseph Smith et Les Mormons ou Examen de Leurs Pretentions Relativement a leur Bible, a leur Prophete et a leur Eglise, par L. Favez (Lausamme: Delefrontaine and Comp 1854): 47.
1856
  • Jules Remy and Julius Brenchley, A Journey to Great Salt Lake City, with a sketch of the History, Religion, and Customs of the Mormons, and an Introduction on the Religious Movement in the United States, in two volumes (London: W. Jeffs 1856) [reprinted from 1861 London edition; Preface dated Paris August 1860], volume I: 395
1857
  • "History of Joseph Smith," Deseret News Weekly 7/37 (November 18, 1857): 290b and 7/38 (November 25, 1857): 297a.
1862
  • L. A. Bertrand, Memoires d’un Mormon (Paris 1862).
  • Richard F. Burton, The City of the Saints (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1862): Appendix. John Taylor, Witness to the Martyrdom [written in response to request by Elder Wilford Woodruff, in letter dated June 30, 1856. This account in Burton was first publication of the work by John Taylor]
1863
  • Le Prophete du XIX Siecle ou vie des Saints des Derniers Jours (Mormons), Hortense G. Du Fay (Paris: Dentu 1863): 100.
1865
  • Hyppolite Taine, Nouveaux Essais de Critique et d’Histoire (Paris, 1865; reprinted 1900, 1901, 1914). Review article of Jules Remy, Voyage au pays des Mormons (Paris, 1860). Translated in Austin E. Fife, "Taine’s Essay on the Mormons. Translated with Introduction and Notes," Pacific Historical Review 31/1 (February 1962): 58.
1867
  • Pomeroy Tucker, Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism. Biography of its Founders and History of its Church. Personal Remembrances and Historical Collections Hitherto Unwritten (New York: D. Appleton and Company 1867): 190.
1875
  • CCA Christensen's moving panorama illustrating church history. One of the 23 scenes illustrates the

martyrdom and actually shows the smoking gun in Joseph's hand (circa this date). This was a traveling show of huge painted canvases that would be displayed to LDS audiences.

1880
  • Autobiography of B. H. Roberts, Gary J. Bergera p.76
1881
  • Daniel Tyler, A Concise History of the Mormon Battalion in the Mexican War, 1846-47 (Salt Lake City 1881). [includes statement by John Taylor on martyrdom of Joseph Smith]
1882
  • Lyman O. Littlefield, The Martyrs; A Sketch of the Lives and a Full account of the Martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, together with a Concise Review of the Most Prominent Incidents Connected with the Persecutions of the Saints, from the time the Church was Organized up to the Year 1846 (Salt Lake City, Utah: Juvenile Instructor Office 1882): [quoting from an earlier work by William M. Daniels in pamphlet form]: (Littlefield, page 78)
1883
  • R. W. Young, "In the Wake of the Church", The Contributor 4/8 (May 1883): 307.
1885
  • Mrs. Ellen E. Dickinson, New Light on Mormonism Introduction by Thurlow Weed (NYC: Funk & Wagnalls, 1885), 108.
1887
  • B.H. Roberts, "The Rise and Fall of Nauvoo," The Contributor 8/11 (September 1887): 406, 407 note
1888
  • Andrew Jenson, Historical Record 7/1-3 (Jan 1888): 568-571
  • George Q. Cannon, Life of Joseph Smith the Prophet (October 1, 1888): 515
1892
  • B.H. Roberts, The Life of John Taylor (SLC: 1989; first published 1892) p.134
1895
  • B. H. Roberts, New Witnesses for God, Vol. 1, (Salt Lake City, January, 1895: 484; Reprinted 1911: 482).
1905
  • Orson F. Whitney, "The Mormon Prophet's Tragedy," A review of an Article by the late John Hay, published originally in the Atlantic Monthly for December, 1869, and republished in the Saints Herald of June 21, 1905. Whitney’s response published 1905, p.68-81
1933
  • John Henry Evans, Joseph Smith. An American Prophet (NY: MacMillan 1933; 1961 Amy Evans; 1989 Deseret Book): 204, 206.
1943
  • John Taylor, The Gospel Kingdom p.358-360 [taken from Roberts, History of the Church 7:100; 252f; 2:267-8; 2:284-5; Published initially in 1943; this is from Taylor’s Witness to the Martyrdom, mentioned earlier under "Richard F. Burton"
1951
  • John A. Widtsoe, Joseph Smith. Seeker after Truth; Prophet of God (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1951; 1991): 319 [quotes from the Willard Richards account]
1967
  • The last Days at Carthage (video), Department of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion, 1967, 5 minutes. This video was re-released as a segment in "Moments from Church History, 1990, copyrighted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 102 Minutes. The video is pretty clear in teaching that Joseph used a gun. At the beginning it says; "Cyrus Wheelock brings a gun" and it shows a close-up of the pepperbox. In a more dramatic part, for a documentary anyway, it shows the gun again and it says: "The gun misfires".
1969
  • LeGrand L. Baker, "On to Carthage to Die", Improvement Era 72/6 (June 1969): 15
1973
  • Reed Blake, 24 Hours to Martyrdom (SLC: Bookcraft, 1973): 127-8
1979
  • Leonard J. Arrington and Davis Bitton, The Mormon Experience. A History of the Latter-day Saints (New York: Knopf, 1979; 1980): 81
1981
  • Dean C. Jessee, "Return to Carthage: Writing the History of Joseph Smith’s Martyrdom," Journal of Mormon History 8 (1981): 1-19.
1985
  • Book Reviews; BYU Studies Vol. 25, No. 3, (Summer 1985): .124 Review of Dean C. Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith; Review by Marvin S. Hill, BYU History Professor
1990
  • Moments from Church History, 1990, copyrighted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 102 Minutes. The video is pretty clear in teaching that Joseph used of a gun. At the beginning it says; "Cyrus Wheelock brings a gun" and it shows a close-up of the pepperbox. In a more dramatic part, for a documentary anyway, it shows the gun again and it says: "The gun misfires".
1994
  • Reed Blake, "Martyrdom at Carthage," Ensign (June 1994), 30. off-site
  • The same information was contained in a "First Presidency Message" in the same Ensign issue (anniversary of Joseph's assassination). Thomas S. Monson, "The Prophet Joseph Smith: Teacher by Example," Ensign, Jun 1994

There was to be one great final lesson before his mortal life ended. He was incarcerated in Carthage Jail with his brother Hyrum, with John Taylor, and with Willard Richards. The angry mob stormed the jail; they came up the stairway, blasphemous in their cursing, heavily armed, and began to fire at will. Hyrum was hit and died. John Taylor took several balls of fire within his bosom. The Prophet Joseph, with his pistol in hand, was attempting to defend his life and that of his brethren, and yet he could tell from the pounding on the door that this mob would storm that door and would kill John Taylor and Willard Richards in an attempt to kill him. And so his last great act here upon the earth was to leave the door and lead Willard Richards to safety, throw the gun on the floor, and go to the window, that they might see him, that the attention of this ruthless mob might be focused upon him rather than the others. Joseph Smith gave his life. Willard Richards was spared, and John Taylor recovered from his wounds. "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." The Prophet Joseph Smith taught us love—by example.

  • Church History in the Fulness of Times, Religion 342-343, Church Educational System manual.
  • Dallin H. Oaks and Marvin J. Hill, Carthage Conspiracy;;
  • Davis Bitton, The Martyrdom Remembered. A one-hundred-fifty-year perspective on the assassination of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City, Utah: Aspen Books, 1994).
2004
  • Matthew B. Brown, Joseph Smith: The Man, The Mission, The Message (American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, 2004): 90, shows a picture of the gun. "Composite photograph of the pepperbox pistol that Joseph Smith used to defend himself after Hyrum had been murdered". Story given in more detail pages 92-4.
2005
  • Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual for 2005: "Doctrine and Covenants and Church History" lesson 32, page 184: the following account of the martyrdom by Elder Willard Richards:
"As he struck the floor he exclaimed emphatically, ‘I am a dead man.’ Joseph looked towards him and responded, ‘Oh, dear brother Hyrum!’ and opening the door two or three inches with his left hand, discharged one barrel of a six shooter (pistol) at random in the entry. . A ball [from the musket of one of the mob] grazed Hyrum’s breast, and entering his throat passed into his head, while other muskets were aimed at him and some balls hit him.
Joseph continued snapping his revolver round the casing of the door into the space as before, while Mr. Taylor with a walking stick stood by his side and knocked down the bayonets and muskets which were constantly discharging through the doorway....
When the revolver failed, we had no more firearms, and expected an immediate rush of the mob, and the doorway full of muskets, half way in the room, and no hope but instant death from within." off-site
2008
  • Joseph L. Lyon and David W. Lyon, "Physical Evidence at Carthage Jail and What It Reveals about the Assassination of Joseph and Hyrum Smith," Brigham Young University Studies 47 no. 4 (2008), 35. PDF link


The FAIR Blog responds to these questions

Roger Nicholson,"The Prophet and the Pistol: A Perspective on the Martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith", FAIR Blog, (November 7, 2013)


In the Church History Museum near Temple Square, located inside a glass case, resides a pair of 19th century pistols and a walking stick. The placard reads, in part, as follows,

Joseph’s Pepperbox Pistol and Hyrum’s Single Shot Pistol. These guns were used by both men for their defense during the attack at Carthage

These were the guns that were smuggled into the Carthage Jail while Joseph Smith, Hyrum and their friends awaited their fate. On the morning of June 27, 1844, Cyrus Wheelock visited the jail.

The morning being a little rainy, favoured his wearing an overcoat, in the side pocket of which he was enabled to carry a six-shooter, and he passed the guard unmolested. During his visit in the prison he slipped the revolver into Joseph’s pocket. Joseph examined it, and asked Wheelock if he had not better retain it for his own protection.
This was a providential circumstance, as most other persons had been very rigidly searched. Joseph then handed the single barrel pistol, which had been given him by John S. Fullmer, to his brother Hyrum, and said, "You may have use for this." Brother Hyrum observed, "I hate to use such things, or to see them used." "So do I," said Joseph, "but we may have to, to defend ourselves;" upon this Hyrum took the pistol. [i]

Although it was referred to as a "six shooter," the pepper-box pistol was not a revolver in the normal sense. It incorporated six individual barrels, it was difficult to aim and tended to be unreliable. The June 2013 Ensign features a painting Greater Love Hath No Man, by Casey Childs. [ii] The artwork features all three items in the display case. Joseph, Hyrum and Willard Richards are attempting to hold the door shut as the mob attempts to enter the room. John Taylor is holding his walking stick. In Hyrum’s left pocket is the single shot pistol brought into the jail by Fullmer, and in Joseph’s left pocket, clearly visible, is the pepper-box pistol given to him by Wheelock.

Click here to view the complete article


Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources
  • Watchman Fellowship, The Watchman Expositor (Page 3)

Is it true that Joseph killed two men by firing at the mob?

The attackers who were hit by Joseph were not killed (as was first reported in some Church publications) but only wounded

Joseph fired his gun six times (only three shots discharged) and he hit two of the mobbers, which John Taylor later mistakenly stated had died. Was Joseph a murderer?

Joseph's actions were clearly self-defense and defense of others under the common law. However, this point is moot since the attackers who were hit were not killed (as was first reported in some Church publications) but only wounded. They were alive and well at the trial held for mob leaders, and were identified by witnesses. Their good health allowed them to receive gifts because of their role in the assault on Joseph, Hyrum, and the other prisoners.

According to Dallin Oaks and Marvin Hill:

Wills, Voras, and Gallaher were probably named in the indictment because their wounds, which testimony showed were received at the jail, were irrefutable evidence that they had participated in the mob. They undoubtedly recognized their vulnerability and fled the county. A contemporary witness reported these three as saying that they were the first men at the jail, that one of them shot through the door killing Hyrum, that Joseph wounded all three with his pistol, and that Gallaher shot Joseph as he ran to the window.[Hay, "The Mormon Prophet's Tragedy," 675] According to Hay, Wills, whom the Mormon prophet had shot in the arm, was an Irishman who had joined the mob from "his congenital love of a brawl."[Statement of Jeremiah Willey, August 13, 1844, Brigham Young correspondence, Church Archives.] Gallaher was a young man from Mississippi who was shot in the face.[Hay, "The Mormon Prophet's Tragedy," 669, 675. Another source says Wills was a former Mormon elder who had left the Church. Davis, An Authentic Account, 24.] Hay described Voras (Voorhees) as a "half-grown hobbledehoy from Bear Creek" whom Joseph shot in the shoulder. The citizens of Green Plains were said to have given Gallaher and Voras new suits of clothes for their parts in the killing.[Statement of Jeremiah Willey, August 13, 1844][10]

Has the Church hidden the fact that Joseph fired a gun while in Carthage Jail?

Many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are not aware of all the excruciatingly minute details of the history of the Church

Mob fires at Joseph Smith in the upper window at Carthage Jail.

Many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (and this is especially true of new members or less-active members) are not aware of all the excruciatingly minute details of the history of the Church. It has become a common tactic among some anti-Mormon aficionados of Mormon history to use this historical ignorance as a weapon. These writers often claim to "expose" these minor events of Church history in a sensationalistic attempt to shock members of the Church with "hidden" revelations or "secret" accounts about various episodes in Church history. They will often claim that the Church has kept this knowledge under wraps for fear that if it was generally known it would cause many members of the Church to immediately renounce their faith and result in the ruination of the Church.

Joseph's attempt to defend himself using the gun is clearly described in History of the Church

Unfortunately for the critics, Joseph's attempt to defend himself, his brother, and his friends, and his possession of a pepperbox gun, is clearly spelled out in the History of the Church:

In the meantime Joseph, Hyrum, and Elder Taylor had their coats off. Joseph sprang to his coat for his six-shooter, Hyrum for his single barrel, Taylor for Markham's large hickory cane, and Dr. Richards for Taylor's cane. All sprang against the door, the balls whistled up the stairway, and in an instant one came through the door.

Joseph Smith, John Taylor and Dr. Richards sprang to the left of the door, and tried to knock aside the guns of the ruffians...

Joseph reached round the door casing, and discharged his six shooter into the passage, some barrels missing fire. Continual discharges of musketry came into the room. Elder Taylor continued parrying the guns until they had got them about half their length into the room, when he found that resistance was vain, and he attempted to jump out of the window, where a ball fired from within struck him on his left thigh, hitting the bone, and passing through to within half an inch of the other side. He fell on the window sill, when a ball fired from the outside struck his watch in his vest pocket, and threw him back into the room.[11]

The next volume of the History of the Church tells the story from John Taylor's point of view:

I shall never forget the deep feeling of sympathy and regard manifested in the countenance of Brother Joseph as he drew nigh to Hyrum, and, leaning over him, exclaimed, 'Oh! my poor, dear brother Hyrum!' He, however, instantly arose, and with a firm, quick step, and a determined expression of countenance, approached the door, and pulling the six-shooter left by Brother Wheelock from his pocket, opened the door slightly, and snapped the pistol six successive times; only three of the barrels, however, were discharged.[12]

If the Church wished to hide these facts, why did they publish them in the History of the Church not once, but twice?

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Notes

  1. Andrew Jenson, "Joseph Smith: A True Prophet," a lecture delivered by Elder Andrew Jenson, before the Students' Society, in the Social Hall, Salt Lake City, Friday evening, January 16, 1891, as found in Brian H. Stuy (editor), Collected Discourses: Delivered by Wilford Woodruff, his two counselors, the twelve apostles, and others, 1868–1898, 5 vols., (Woodland Hills, Utah: B.H.S. Publishing, 1987–1989).
  2. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 6:606. Volume 6 link
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957). Volume 6 link
  4. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 6:616. Volume 6 link
  5. 5.0 5.1 Henry Guly, "Medicinal brandy," Resuscitation 82/7-2 (July 2011): 951–954.
  6. History of the Church. Volume 7 link
  7. J. Christopher Conkling, A Joseph Smith Chronology (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1979), 243-245.
  8. Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language, Second College Edition (New York: World Publishing Company, 1970), 870.
  9. Dictionary.com website, s.v. "martyr."(accessed May 7, 2003).
  10. Dallin H. Oaks and Marvin S. Hill, Carthage Conspiracy, the Trial of the Accused Assassins of Joseph Smith (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1979), 52. ISBN 025200762X.
  11. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 6:617–618. Volume 6 link
  12. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 7:102–103. Volume 7 link

Response to claim: 263 - The authors repeat a popular rumor that Joseph killed two of his attackers with his gun

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

The authors repeat a popular rumor that Joseph killed two of his attackers with his gun,

John Taylor stated that before Smith was shot, he used his smuggled gun to shoot three of his attackers, killing two of them.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The mistake: Although John Taylor believed it at the time, the two men shot by Joseph Smith at Carthage Jail did not die from their wounds.


Question: Did Joseph Smith actually shoot and kill two men at Carthage Jail?

John Taylor erroneously believed that Joseph Smith had shot and killed two of their attackers at Carthage Jail

John Taylor actually said, "I afterwards understood that two or three were wounded by these discharges, two of whom, I am informed, died."[1] Who were these rumored dead men? Colonel Hay in his narrative wrote:

Joe Smith died bravely. He stood by the jamb of the door and fired four shots, bringing his man down every time. He shot an Irishman named Wills, who was in the affair from his congenital love of a brawl, in the arm; Gallagher, a Southerner from the Mississippi Bottom, in the face; Voorhees, a half-grown hobbledehoy from Bear Creek, in the shoulder; and another gentleman, whose name I will not mention, as he is prepared to prove an alibi, and besides stands six feet two in his moccasins.[2]

The alleged dead men were actually indicted by the court for murder

The courts indicted these alleged dead men for murder. Mr. Hay wrote:

Bills of indictment were found at the October term of court against Levi Williams, Mark Aldrich, Jacob C. Davis, William N. Grover, Thomas C. Sharp, John Wills, William Voorhees, William Gallagher and one Allen. They were based on the testimony of two idle youths, named Brackenbury and Daniels, who had accompanied the expedition from Warsaw to Carthage on the 27th of June, and had seen the whole affair.[3]

The alleged dead men were seen on the road between Carthage and Warsaw

The two youths eventually exploited the incident and became useless as witnesses. However, their testimony as to seeing Wills, Voras, and Gallaher, all wounded, on the road between Carthage and Warsaw, were sufficient for indictment. The three indicted men were never arrested, nor did they appear at the trial. In contrast to Taylor's unverified rumor perpetuation of their death, a local newspaper of that day perpetuated rumors to the contrary stating that the three men had left the state.[4]

Dallin Oaks and Marvin Hill's detailed analysis of the accused killers trial stated that:

Wills, Voras, and Gallaher were probably named in the indictment because their wounds, which testimony showed were received at the jail, were irrefutable evidence that they had participated in the mob. They undoubtedly recognized their vulnerability and fled the country. A contemporary witness reported these three as saying that they were the first men at the jail, that one of them shot through the door killing Hyrum, that Joseph wounded all three with his pistol, and that Gallaher shot Joseph as he ran to the window... The citizens of Green Plains were said to have given Gallaher and Voras new suits of clothes for their parts in the killing.[5]

The authors erroneously turn rumors into fact. Clearly there is more to the story than the mangled words of John Taylor reveal.


Response to claim: 263 - The authors attempt a comparison between the death of Joseph Smith and the death of Jesus Christ

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

The authors attempt a comparison between the death of Joseph Smith and the death of Jesus Christ,

The differences between Jesus and Joseph Smith are obvious. On the one hand, Jesus quietly and humbly went like a lamb to the slaughter. He went peacefully and without resistance. When Peter attempted to defend his Lord from the mob by drawing his sword, he was told to put it away (John 18:11)...it is wrong for Mormons to draw a similarity between Smith's final actions and those of the Savior. There can be no comparison between the sacrificial death of Christ and the way Smith died!

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The spin: Professional critics Jerald and Sandra Tanner would no doubt approve of the authors' conclusions about the martyrdom of Joseph Smith. Why wouldn't they? The same material can be found in a pamphlet that they sell entitled Jesus and Joseph Smith. For example:
  • Tanner: "It is interesting to compare the death of Joseph Smith with that of Jesus."
  • McKeever: "The differences between Jesus and Joseph Smith are obvious."
  • Tanner: "Jesus did go like a 'lamb to the slaughter'"
  • McKeever: "Jesus quietly and humbly went like a lamb to the slaughter"
  • Tanner: When Peter tried to defend Jesus with the sword, Jesus told him: "Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?" (John 18:11)
  • McKeever: When Peter attempted to defend his Lord from the mob by drawing his sword, he was told to put it away (John 18:11)
  • Tanner: "can be seen that the death of Joseph Smith can in no way be compared to the death of Jesus."
  • McKeever: "can be no comparison between the sacrificial death of Christ and the way Smith died!"

Additionally, the previously addressed narratives of Cyrus H. Wheelock's pistol, details of the "shoot-out," and the two dead men, can all be found in the Tanner's free pamphlet. The fact that this information can be had via the Tanner's Internet site, or thirty copies of the pamphlet can be had for the price of one dollar at the Tanners' store in Salt Lake City, demonstrates the stale and tired recompilation of 170+ years of asked-and-answered anti-Mormon rhetoric.

While both sets of critics make much of Jesus telling Peter to put his sword away, both fail to mention the instruction was preceded by Jesus telling the apostles who did not have swords to sell their garments and buy one, which was followed by Peter cutting the servants ear off, then Jesus said it was enough. (Luke 22꞉36-51) Why did Jesus tell his followers to equip themselves with swords if he did not want them to defend themselves? Jesus himself said, "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword." (Matthew 10꞉34)The facts: "Mormons" draw no such comparison between the matchless sacrifice of Christ and that of the cold-blooded murder of the Prophet. This theme of denying Joseph Smith status as a Martyr is popular in anti-Mormon publications. They conclude that his use of a gun, and attempted escape from a window (to save the lives of those in the room, no less) voids him as a martyr. While this defies definition, it is nonetheless used as a basis for denial. The question must be asked, can a martyr give resistance? There is nothing in its definition that suggests they cannot. Webster's definition of a Martyr certainly fits Joseph. The definition states that a martyr is someone "put to death for adhering to a belief, faith, or profession." The authors apparently want the definition to be re-written to exclude Joseph Smith. If the authors suggest he was put to death for some other reason, they fail to make their case. Can the authors deny Christ as the Savior because he resisted earlier attempts against His life? Paul similarly fought death through following a lengthy legal process in hopes of freedom. So are we to conclude that Paul is not a Martyr either? It is puzzling how the authors can contrast between Jesus and Joseph and arrive at the conclusion they do. We see through examples above, just how Joseph acted under due process. He was a willing sacrifice and his words and actions repeatedly confirm this.


Notes

  1. Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Vol. 7, 102-103.
  2. Whitney, The Mormon Prophet's Tragedy: A Review, 75; and Hay, "The Mormon Prophet's Tragedy," 675.
  3. Whitney, The Mormon Prophet's Tragedy: A Review, 87; and Hay, "The Mormon Prophet's Tragedy," 677.
  4. Dallin Oaks and Marvin Hill, Carthage Conspiracy, The Trial of the Accused Assassins of Joseph Smith (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1975), 79.
  5. Ibid., 52-53.


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