It’s a Wrap: Reluctant Polygamist, 6th and Final Edition


Reluctant Polygamist is finally done.

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.

Reluctant Polygamist, 6th edition (17 Mar 2017)

Notes:

  1. Times and Seasons, 15 Apr 1842, p. 763

14 thoughts on “It’s a Wrap: Reluctant Polygamist, 6th and Final Edition

  1. Thank you for what you have done/accomplished with this research effort and book. It is a unique achievement, I do not think anything quite like it exists in all of “Mormomdom”. I hope that it continues to inspire more research to understand our early history. Specifically I hope someone now takes up the task of understanding/explaining the transition from Joseph Smith’s teachings to those of Brigham Young (not just in the area of marriage, but for priesthood and the roles/status of men and women).

  2. +1 for a kindle version.

    I’ve only been reading M* for a month or something now, so I’m almost entirely unfamiliar with this work of yours, Meg. Thank you for the summary. It jibes with the general opinion I’ve had forever: Joseph can’t possibly have been “carrying on” with dozens of wives, for a variety of reasons. I’ll put the book in my queue.

    I’m curious, though, about the criticism you received. What kind of rebuttal can be made to your thesis here? Were you honestly met with the argument “Nuh-uh! Joseph totally got down with all those women!”? I’m not grasping how anyone with self-respect can make such a case.

  3. Hi Mormontarian,

    If you google “Faithful Joseph Digest”, you’ll get to a digest version I put together that links to all the posts I put up back in 2013-2014.

    Faithful Joseph Digest

    As for folks telling me I must be an idiot, there are any number of people who have jumped on that bandwagon. Which makes it all the more surprising that none of them has been able to put together a coherent argument that actually disproves my thesis that Joseph was honorable.

    As an aside, I pushed back on Emily Partridge’s “Yes, sir” to the question of whether she engaged in carnal intercourse with Joseph Smith, making a case for her lying in response to the overwhelming stakes involved in 1894. However when I learned that some were extremely offended that I would accuse Emily of lying, I offered up the possibility that “carnal” and “intercourse” have alternate meanings that she could have truthfully answered with “Yes, sir” if she had so much as passed a platter of protein to Joseph. The exmo reddit thread lit up with laughter and mockery of “meat commerce.” The term has become a shibboleth I can use with utter certainty to determine someone’s worldview.

    For what it’s worth, I’m more inclined towards the “rarely consummated” than the “never consummated” when it comes to covenants with women other than Emma. But none of the cases I consider possible are absolutely proven. And the two reports that rise to what I consider a credible level (Emily Partridge, Malissa Lott) occurred at times when Emma was willing to allow Joseph to fulfill the commandment articulated in D&C 132.

    As recently as this week a scholar commented that it is unfortunate that I feel I must demean honored LDS leaders. But that individual hasn’t bothered pointing out how I am incorrect.

  4. Press Forward Saint! Some of the most important books in our heritage have been written relatively rapidly, then followed by commentaries and studies. It has been quite a journey, especially in light of the other things you have accomplished meanwhile.

  5. Various tidbits that have come across my desk since March 17. For example:

    1) Someone e-mailed me information on the descendant of John Taylor who got involved in plural marriage. The lady was the grand-daughter of my grandmother’s uncle, though almost as old as my grandmother. My grandmother had been told the young lady annulled the marriage, but apparently that was the “public story.” Instead, it seems the young lady went underground. From that one young woman have sprung numerous progeny within the fundamentalist tradition, though from what I see on the internet of this under-documented family, the subsequent 2-3 generations have been highly inbred (from an online article describing the tragic death of one of the male progeny).

    2) Additional information pertaining to Martha Brotherton.

    a) Martha’s sister, Elizabeth, wrote a letter from Nauvoo on April 20, 1842. Because Elizabeth used plural pronouns and states she had left Warsaw three weeks earlier, lazy researchers have presumed Martha and Elizabeth left Nauvoo at the same time. But the internal evidence of that letter in combination with Hyrum’s rebuttal of the rumor in early April makes it impossible for Martha to have remained in Warsaw until the end of March 1842.

    b) At the same time, a comment from Joseph Smith, repeated in Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s A House of Females suggests Joseph may have become aware of the heresy by December 19, 1841. Wilford Woodruff recorded that on that day Joseph had told the Quorum of the Twelve that God would not reveal His secrets to His servants unless they were willing to keep them. This fits a chronology where Martha counted her arrival “at Nauvoo” as coinciding with debarking from the river boat less than 20 miles from the heart of Nauvoo after traveling from England via New Orleans, a trip that had lasted 66 days across thousands of miles. We know the apostles visited the company who had gotten snowed in at Warsaw in the first weeks after their arrival, and Martha’s sister Mary had moved to Nauvoo proper by 6 December, supporting the report that Martha was visiting with her sister and brother-in-law and was subject to supervision by her brother-in-law. This implies Martha’s father had either let her travel to Nauvoo with her sister and brother-in-law on 6 December or had left her behind in Nauvoo when he came to visit during the week following 6 December.

    3) I’m loving many aspects of Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s A House of Females. It was Jonathan H. Holmes’s brother, Milton, who introduced Wilford Woodruff to Phebe Carter, significant as Wilford and Phebe married on the same day as Jonathan Holmes and Marietta Carter (the two Carter women weren’t related). There are delightful details regarding charismatic dreams women had in England that foreshadowed proxy baptism for the dead weeks before the Branson funeral in August 1840. But I could scream that Dr. Ulrich fails to see the illicit intercourse heresy, even when telling us that on April 2, 1842, the Nauvoo City Council had sent a letter to the Nauvoo Relief Society about “unprincipled men” who might try to deceive them. The letter continued:

    “We do not mention their names, not knowing but what there may be some among you who are not sufficiently skill’d in Masonry as to keep a secret…”

    If men attempted to teach women of the Relief Society things “contrary to the old established morals & virtues & scriptural laws,” the women were advised to dismiss the men as “liars & base imposters… whether they are prophets, Seers, or revelators; Patriarchs, twelve Apostles, Elders, Priests, Mayors, Generals, City Councillors, Aldermen, Marshalls, Police, Lord Mayors or the Devil.”

  6. “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. ”

    This sentence sums up the analytical approach that’s just so awkwardly off base about a lot of your theory.

    What faithful member wants to dispute that Joseph was honorable? I think you set to prove originally he had no sexual relationships, and then when confronted after months of writing you left an escape clause for some rare consummation, which pretty much undermines the purpose of your prior thesis (not that Joseph wasn’t honorable, what Mormon disagrees with that? But that Joseph didn’t have sex with them).

    If your thesis is, 1 Joseph never consummated his multiple marriages, 2 except for when we rarely did, you can see why it’s a silly argument. Except for 1 is by and large what you first set out to prove in order to demonstrate his honor, and later added in 2.

    Without even looking at evidence, your arguments were and are often easy to dismiss because they often are based on so much conjecture within the structure of the argument itself.

    Without dredging up old posts, I recall the deeper conspiracy post with Joseph’s murder that was linked to a sniper on a hill top. That was shark jumping story telling like much other analysis where you took a baseline of facts (Joseph was shot in front of a window), and painted a creatively vibrant and imaginative story around it.

    Except your story of a sexless plural marriage Joseph frequently meant accusing everyone in the timeline with contradictory evidence of being deluded or a liar.

    Now, I do fully believe there are many good connections from your writing, such as the organization of the relief society and it’s linkage to strikers and plural marriage — including protection of women previously taken advantage of. There was obviously a lot going on there we don’t have a good picture of and this topic in its own weight is worth deeper study.

    If someone told me Joseph rarely slept with his other wives or if they told me he frequently slept with his other wives I could believe either argument based on the evidence they draw on.

    If they said never, I’d think they were the ones stretching the facts too much to fit the narrative. I think that’s an adequate explanation of a lot of your story.

    Any contradictory evidence, you dismiss by calling the ‘witness’ a liar with an elaborate story around it. That argument that can easily be applied to your story, can it not?

  7. Hi P.L.,

    My central thesis remains that Joseph rarely (if ever) consummated his covenant relationships with women other than Emma Hale and that the sexual weirdness in Nauvoo was a heresy that was wholly separate from Joseph’s teachings regarding plural marriage.

    There are plenty of ex-Mormons and apologetic Mormons who have a problem with my thesis. And they have made much noise about it. But that noise consists of name calling rather than proving I am wrong.

    I never said there was a sniper on a hill – just that Hyrum was shot from a distance of 100 yards and it appears Joseph was shot by someone to the east, with the claim by John C. Elliott that he’d killed both Smith brothers with a specialized rifle. The only reasonable way that could be true is if the rifleman was using a rest. And that makes this rare assassination of a Presidential candidate and early instance of sniper techniques.

    It’s odd for you to claim I am wrong by citing things I never said. It appears you tend to be in the camp of certain Mormon scholars who dislike my thesis as it necessarily suggests some Mormon leaders were involved in the weirdness. But you need to do more than suggest the data is so confused that any thesis can be consistent with the data, for that isn’t true. The “the truth is unknowable so I shall ignore what *you* say” argument is one made by bullies, in my experience (speaking of experiences across my entire experience, not just Nauvoo history).

  8. I have read some of your book. I hope to read more after a licensing exam.
    I think a great deal of focus is on whether a Joseph had sexual relations with the women sealed for eternity.

    I seem to be stuck on whether polygamy and dealings is a power grab, or a way to maintain intimate connections. Whether intentional, or unintentional. Hopefully, I can glean some of your soon.

  9. Good luck with your licensing exam!

    I would suggest you think of Joseph’s teachings regarding Celestial marriage as what Brigham indicated to the Southern professor in July 1843 – that it was to unite families in eternity, even when a woman was married to a man who was also married to someone else. (See Reluctant Polygamist, pp. 190-191)

    Joseph’s covenants with so very many woman were prompted by fears that seducers were operating In Nauvoo and other Mormon communities. As the Nauvoo City Council wrote to the Relief Society in April 1842, women were advised to reject men who attempted to teach them things “contrary to the old established morals & virtues & scriptural laws,” and should dismiss them as “liars & base impostors…whether they are prophets, Seers, or revelators; Patriarchs, twelve Apostles, Elders, Priests, Mayors, Generals, City Councillors, Aldermen, Marshalls, Police, Lord Mayors or the Devil.” (See Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, A House Full of Women, p. 66).

    I wish plural marriage had been more frequently practiced the way Wilford Woodruff proceeded rather than with the reckless abandon that characterized the extreme number of plural marriages entered into by Brigham Young, Heber Kimball, and John Taylor.

    But I do appreciate the way Brigham Young allowed that marriage could end if the parties were not happy, rather than insisting that women were property of men.

    Mostly, my point is that there was an illicit intercourse heresy that provoked much of Joseph’s behavior in 1842-1844, even though Joseph’s believed from March 1831 that he was required to restore Celestial marriage and the possibility of plural marriage.

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