Part 24: CES Letter Polygamy & Polyandry Questions [Section E]
by Sarah Allen
Today, we’re talking about Fanny Alger, the nature of her relationship with Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery’s reaction to the whole thing, William McLellin, his relationship with the Church and with Emma Smith specifically, and maybe more. It’s a lot to cover, so I’m just going to start without a prolonged introduction.
An illegal marriage to Fanny Alger, which was described by Oliver Cowdery as a “dirty, nasty, filthy affair” – Rough Stone Rolling, p.323
All plural marriages for time or time and eternity performed in Kirtland and Nauvoo were illegal from a secular stance, so I’m not sure why Runnells is singling out this one as being so. As the Church’s essay on Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo states:
Polygamy had been permitted for millennia in many cultures and religions, but, with few exceptions, was rejected in Western cultures. In Joseph Smith’s time, monogamy was the only legal form of marriage in the United States. Joseph knew the practice of plural marriage would stir up public ire. After receiving the commandment, he taught a few associates about it, but he did not spread this teaching widely in the 1830s.
The Algers were some of those associates. We don’t know much at all about Joseph’s relationship with Fanny, the daughter who worked in the Smith home, and most of what we do know is from later accounts. Eliza R. Snow, who was well-acquainted with Fanny and the Smith family, listed her among Joseph’s plural wives for Andrew Jenson’s affidavits, so some people were directly aware of the union. However, most of what we have is rumors, innuendo, and other second- or third-hand sources. Many of those accounts are contradictory as well, which means there is very, very little we actually know and most everything else is just guesswork. We have to weigh the sources and decide which ones we think are the most trustworthy.