Did Joseph Smith send men on missions in order to steal their wives?

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Did Joseph Smith send men on missions in order to "steal" their wives while they were gone?

This claim is contradicted by historical data: ten of the husbands of the twelve "polyandrous" wives were not on missions at the time and there is insufficient or contradictory information about the other two

One critic of the Church states, "Joseph Smith would frequently approach other men’s wives about being his own plural wives — often while the men were away." [1]

Researcher Brian C. Hales noted that this claim is without foundation:

Another detail in [John C.] Bennett's Pittsburgh affidavit is that the Prophet had sent men on missions so he could marry their wives in Nauvoo. This statement is contradicted by historical data. Of the twelve "polyandrous" husbands identified by Todd Compton, ten were not on missions at the time Joseph was sealed to their legal wives. Of the two possible exceptions, only one, Orson Hyde, is documented as on a mission at the time of Marinda Johnson Hyde's sealing to Joseph Smith. The second possible case involves George Harris, who left on his fourteen-month mission in July 1840. His wife, Lucinda may have been...sealed to Joseph Smith at some point, but the date is unavailable.[2]

The only question regards Orson Hyde, who had been on his mission for one year to two years before the sealing

It is of note that Orson had been on his mission for about a year before the sealing--he departed on 15 April 1840, and would return 7 December 1842. There are two dates available for her sealing to Joseph--either April/Spring 1842, or May 1843.[3] Thus, even with the earliest sealing date, Orson had been gone for nearly two years prior to Joseph's sealing to Nancy. If the second sealing date is correct, Orson was already home from his mission at the time.

This long delay does not fit well with the claim that a sexually-aggressive Joseph simply wanted his male rivals out of the way.

Hyde's wife Marinda was sealed to Orson following Joseph's death

Unique to the Hyde's marriage is the fact that Marinda was sealed to Orson following Joseph's death. All of the Prophet's other polyandrous wives were posthumously sealed to Joseph by proxy.[4]

Much of what we know about the Hyde sealing is also contaminated by hostile, mutually contradictory accounts that contain some known false information.

Did Joseph Smith send William Law, Robert D. Foster, and Henry Jacobs on missions so that he could steal their wives?

This claim was made in an anti-Mormon expose entitled Fifteen Years Among the Mormons

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.[5]

So, we must remember that the source of this charge against Joseph is a work that is not regarded as generally reliable today, and it was not regarded as reliable even by some of the Church's well-informed enemies in the 19th century.

The book claimed that Law, Foster and Jacobs were returned from missions to find their wives "blushing under the prospective honors of spiritual wifeism"

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.[6]

Law and Foster never served missions, and Jacobs was not on a mission when Joseph proposed a sealing to his wife

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. None of the men were on missions save Jacobs, and he was in Nauvoo when Joseph proposed a sealing to his wife.

Orson Hyde is the only person whose wife was sealed to Joseph while he was on a mission.

Summary: Marinda Nancy Johnson was married to Orson Hyde. There are contradictory accounts which make it impossible to know for certain whether or not Orson knew of and consented to Marinda's sealing for eternity to Joseph. However, according to Hales, "If the 1842 date for the sealing between Joseph and Marinda marriage is correct, then Joseph may have been sealed to Marinda in an "eternity only" sealing without Orson Hyde’s knowledge." Yet he also notes that "John D. Lee remembered that Orson gave his permission: 'Hyde’s wife, with his consent, was sealed to Joseph for an eternal state.'" At the very least, Orson was away for more than a year prior to the sealing, which suggests that Joseph was not simply waiting to get Orson out of the way.

Marinda Nancy Johnson Hyde's sealing to Joseph Smith

Summary: Was Joseph's sealing to Nancy Hyde driven by lustful motives?

Joseph's polyandrous marriages

Summary: Nothing in plural marriage mystifies—or troubles—members of the Church more than Joseph's polyandrous sealings. Marriage to multiple wives may seem strange, but at least it intrudes on our historical awareness, while many remain unaware of polyandry's existence in LDS history. But, most critical accounts do not provide all the facts. When we understand what these marriages consisted of—and what they did not consist of—they are much less strange.

See also Brian Hales' discussion

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources


  1. John Dehlin, "Questions and Answers," Mormon Stories Podcast (25 June 2014).
  2. Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy Vol. 1, 313–314.
  3. Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy Vol. 1, 273–274.
  4. Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 240–242. ( Index of claims )
  5. Stenhouse, "Tell It All", 618.
  6. 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.