Critics have had over three years to prove I was wrong to assert Joseph Smith was an honorable man who rarely, if ever, consummated the covenants he entered into with women other than his wife, Emma. No one has assembled a reasonable alternate explanation for the lack of children from dozens of “plural marriages.” Despite various instances of ridicule on the one hand or unreasoning dismissal on the other hand, no one has attacked my core thesis and proven me wrong.
Meanwhile I have found additional information that further clarifies this important topic.
I assert Joseph’s actions were prompted by a desire to save his people from a heresy that threatened to derail the restoration itself. Many have considered my position and found it a satisfying answer to the confusion of facts history has left to us.
The sixth edition of Reluctant Polygamist was published March 17, 2017, the 175th anniversary of the founding of Relief Society (now available on Amazon.com). There was no organization more effective than the Relief Society at combating the heresy of illicit intercourse corrupting Nauvoo in 1842. So I thought it fitting that this important anniversary be marked by publication of a revision that points out with even more clarity how Relief Society saved the Saints in 1842. Though the electronic edition was available March 17, I wanted to wait until after General Conference to mention it here at Millennial Star.
However I have no interest in restricting readers to paper copies. The pdf of the sixth edition is available by clicking the following link: Reluctant Polygamist, 6th Edition. I will be discontinuing availability of earlier editions on May 1, though pdf versions of all earlier editions will become available on the Reluctant Polygamist website at that point. The Reluctant Polygamist website will also provide the content of the most recent book in webpages that can be translated into any of 90 languages, along with instructions on how to get the internet or a pdf reader to speak the content to you. These webpages will also include future errata, additional references not included in the print version, and new evidences as they arise.
How Did This Come About?
The project that has become Reluctant Polygamist started in April 2001 when I was asked to present a 5 minute vignette on a famous Mormon woman. I selected Elvira Cowles, who happened to be an ancestor and was one of the women who covenanted with Joseph Smith, Jr.
The project took a detour in 2006 when I accepted a sister’s invitation to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). While some will forever deride me as a “fiction writer,” it took the lens of storytelling for me to begin to unwrap the mysteries of Nauvoo. I hope someday to write the historical fiction that has played before my mind’s eye since 2006. But despite the poor reputation fiction can have when it comes to history, I wanted to make sure my “back story” was grounded firmly in the documented history of Nauvoo. Where most fiction writers are at liberty to create a world, I had to unearth the world I wanted to explore. I chose to be bound by the realm of the possible, as documented by artifacts and evidence.
That evidence surprised me. I had always presumed that Joseph was consummating many of his covenants with women. But the more I dug into the facts, the more I became convinced that something else was going on. And even though I expected a recognized historian would publish what I was finding as an amateur, that never happened.
Most of you didn’t know I existed until December 2013, when Bruce Nielson enticed me to blog here at M*. I decided to call the series “Faithful Joseph,” though that has led to odd misunderstandings. However the broad strokes of my narrative depicting Joseph as honorable cleared up for many the confusion that has surrounded the topic of “Mormon Polygamy” since the death of Joseph Smith. A range of evidence that was new to me surfaced during those months, but none of it contradicted my fundamental premise. In some cases, the evidence I was provided bolstered my assertions that Joseph was a good man, protecting his people.
Eventually it was impressed upon me that this needed to be elevated from mere blog posts to book form.
Why Six Editions in Less than One Year?
In April 2016 I published the first book edition of Reluctant Polygamist. Too soon thereafter I gave in to the temptation to issue a 2nd edition to correct the typos and grammar errors that seemed to have spawned on too many pages. Then I decided to add an appendix to delineate the alleged children of Joseph. I justified a 4th edition when I realized the identity of the Esther Smith who reported Gustavus Hills’s attempt to seduce her, as Hills had seduced Mary Clift. The Esther Smith reporting Hills’s seduction attempt was almost certainly the same Esther [Dutcher] Smith who reported having covenanted with Joseph Smith during his lifetime in Nauvoo. This strengthened my assertion that Joseph covenanted with women who assisted in bringing the seducers to justice.
The fifth edition wasn’t really my fault. But how could I not produce a version that captured the delightful autosomal DNA results that prove Josephine Lyon’s descendants are not related to Joseph Smith?
I was ready to push out the 5th edition as a physical book when I took a detour into an ostensibly faithful Mormon online community. But it was not the hundreds of pages of ridicule that rocked my world. The mental earthquake occurred in a hotel in Milwaukee when I pulled up the April 1842 conference summary for my husband to prove why I was so adamantly sure I was right. And there on the page lay the key which unlocked the last secret to which the silence of the past had blinded my eyes.
Hyrum had addressed the conference to refute a scurrilous rumor, a rumor we now know to have been spread by Martha Brotherton. My old self had noticed that Brigham Young and Heber Kimball were mentioned. But I had not previously seen that Hyrum implicates himself in the rumor:
Pres’t H. Smith… then spoke in contradiction of a report in circulation about Elder Kimball, B. Young, himself, and others of the Twelve, alleging that a sister had been shut in a room for several days, and that they had endeavored to induce her to believe in having two wives. 1
The implications of Hyrum’s involvement in the interview reported by Martha Brotherton are vast. For instance, it seems the priesthood census of 1842 had not been ineffective, as I had previously supposed. Rather, it had powerfully put an end to the vast majority of heretical sexual goings-on being practiced by the innocent. This explains why there is so little detail regarding “plural marriage” during that timeframe. This was perhaps the explanation for why so many women decided to covenant with Joseph Smith for eternity, when we have always presumed their husbands were entirely faithful and worthy.
Only 46 Pages of End Notes?
I know. There will be assertions you see in the book that you will question.
- Was “Striker” really a term that implied sexual debauchery?
- Did Florence Nightingale really reject germ theory and the possibility that disease could be spread by physical contact (contagion)?
I’ve picked two points that are now thoroughly documented. However there may be a point or two where you think I’m making things up.
Let my introduce you as a layman to a little tool called “google.” If my information is from direct communication with an individual, I tell you so. The rest of those things which I haven’t footnoted have been left as patently obvious to anyone willing to do a bit of simple internet sleuthing. I presume scholars already know how to do research to substantiate (or refute) the assertions in the book.
However if you’d rather ask me to provide the reference for an assertion you question, you will be able to contact me via the Reluctant Polygamist website after May 1 and I will update the living copy with that reference.
But Your Conclusions Can’t Be Correct
There are some things the internet can’t tell you. One of those things is what two people did behind the doors that a third person reported got closed several decades before, given a lack of reported offspring and no supporting DNA data.
Think of me as the defense for the accused. I am merely pointing out that the entire fabric supporting the “Joseph was a libidinous lecher” conclusion is flawed by a lack of physical evidence. In the meantime, there is substantial evidence that Joseph and the vast majority of his followers were honorable individuals, willing to sacrifice all they had to spread the restored gospel to all mankind.
When a historical figure makes an assertion, I put myself in their shoes. What could have happened to make that person assert what they recorded? Often, immersing oneself in the world of the historical character allows you to see why they acted and spoke or wrote as they did.
You’ll notice that I typically use the subjunctive. I’ll state “it is reasonable to assert.” I am not proclaiming that any individual assertion is absolutely correct. But when taken as a whole, the mass of valid alternate possibilities begins to yield a new landscape, a landscape that is entirely possible, given the documents and data we have before us.
Why’d You Write a Book? No Scholar Has Time for a Book. The Path to Acceptance is Through (Blessedly Short) Scholarly Articles
I am a scientist. I am familiar with the scientific method. And I am trained in strategic planning and transition of new technologies and ideas.
In my assessment, it was not sufficient to spend years publishing concise elements from what I’ve put in this book. The tempo of academic publication is excruciatingly slow. Meanwhile, the internet, which is proving so troublesome to those proclaiming their loss of faith, is able to serve up a complete dish of scurrilous implication in the time it takes to click and follow a link.
Let me respond by relating a disagreement between two of Mormonism’s greatest leaders. Brigham Young had proclaimed that the Saints needed to get to the west with all haste. John Taylor felt a better plan would be a gradual advance, with way stations along the trail where food could be grown and supplies staged.
Here’s the thing. Had the Mormons made westward travel an organized and deliberate thing, then it is likely Mormons would have been blamed for the cholera epidemic that killed so many en route to California in the late 1840s and early 1850s. Taylor’s envisioned way stations would likely have spread Mormon resources even more thin, exposing them to attack by disease and enemies.
So ultimately I don’t know why I’m taking Brigham’s “let’s do it all in one shot” approach. But I feel it is the right thing for me.
I do plan to submit (blessedly short) scholarly articles and make presentations at venues that discuss Mormon history. As these are published or presented, abstracts and content will be available or linked as appropriate at the Reluctant Polygamist website.
Whoa! The Price of the Physical Book Went Up!
The book is about 20 pages longer than before. I also realized that the price I had set on the original book was not quite high enough to allow brick and mortar stores to purchase the wholesale books and make their usual profit. As those making paper, shipping things, and offering physical books are worth their hire, I have now properly priced the physical book so each of these can earn the wage associated with their services. But if you don’t want to support printers, shippers, and bookstores, feel free to download the pdf for free.
- Times and Seasons, 15 Apr 1842, p. 763 ↩