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In May 1842, Emma Hale [Smith] would address the Relief Society, calling upon them to come forward if they knew of any involved in sinful behavior. This has often been interpreted as a jealous wife using her position of authority to investigate rumors of polygamy, unaware that Joseph was teaching individuals about the New and Everlasting Covenant and its allowance for plural marriage. However Emma refers to prior events, saying, “the time had been when charity had covered a multitude of sins— but now it is necessary that sin should be expos’d— that heinous sins were among us— that much of this iniquity was practiced by some in authority, pretending to be sanction’d by Prest. Smith…”

If we believe Emma, there was a time of amnesty, when those who had erred were taught correct doctrines and permitted to repent.

There is documentation of confessions made to ecclesiastical or legal authority. However it is likely most confessions of the penitent would be lost to history. Certainly the penitent would have suppressed evidence of the sins they had forsaken. Beyond those sins that were forsaken, garbled second hand reports regarding spiritual wifery would be remembered in later years as pertaining to Joseph Smith’s Celestial marriage doctrine. However Joseph reportedly maintained utter secrecy regarding plural marriage during this period when women confessed to being seduced by Dr. Bennett and his followers. It becomes clear that some past observations refer to illicit intercourse and spiritual wifery rather than Celestial marriage and plural marriage.

John Higbee.

While Francis and Chauncey Higbee would be remembered as scoundrels in connection with the sexual liaisons they engaged in during 1841 and 1842, their Uncle John is remembered as an honorable individual. John Higbee had been a protector and mentor to many during the expulsion from Missouri in 1833. After the Bennett scandal had blown over, John Higbee would remain a faithful Saint. John Higbee received the ordinance of the Endowment in the Nauvoo temple on Joseph Smith’s birthday in 1845. Higbee helped ferry the Saints across the Mississippi when they evacuated Nauvoo in 1846. He traveled with the Saints to Winter Quarters, joined the first company of Saints to travel towards Salt Lake City, led the company that settled Provo, served a mission to England, and remained a faithful Mormon until his death at age 73 in Toquerville, Washington. [1]

John can be seen as an archetype of the faithful who became persuaded to engage in sinful sexual practices in 1841/42 yet who subsequently repented. If it were not for the 1903 letter of Orange Wight stating that John had two wives in the summer of 1841, there would be no reason to suspect that John Higbee had ever erred.

Evidence that others transgressed during 1841/42 is present, but is often buried in obscure documents. In other cases the evidence for transgression is overwhelming, but has been interpreted as instances of early Celestial marriage.

Delicate Matters.

On 23 June 1843 Joseph Smith “conversed considerable concerning some delicate matters” with William Clayton, who by then had covenanted with a plural wife. William Clayton’s journal contains a concise record of the conversation. [2] Clayton discussed three men in his journal: Thompson, Brother Knight, and BY. Of these, Thompson and Brother Knight had apparently died. Clayton recorded that Joseph had pled with the Lord to spare BY, “otherwise he would have died.” It is worth remembering that in 1843 Joseph and Clayton would have believed that sexual sin could directly cause death.

Thompson. The first person mentioned in William Clayton’s record of the “delicate matters” was Robert Blashel Thompson, who was married to the former Mercy Fielding, sister of Hyrum Smith’s second wife, Mary Fielding [Smith]. Robert Thompson died on August 27, 1841. At the time he was the official Church Historian, a colonel and aide-de-camp in the Nauvoo Legion, and associate editor of the Times and Seasons newspaper in Nauvoo. Robert Thompson was so close to the Smith family that he is the only non-Smith to be buried in the Smith family plot in Nauvoo.

It may have been Robert Thompson who attempted to persuade Don Carlos Smith to embrace spiritual wifery. Don Carlos Smith was chief editor of the Times and Seasons, and brother to Joseph Smith. The publisher of the Times and Seasons in August 1841 was Ebenezer Robinson. Decades later Ebenezer Robinson would report that Don Carlos said, “Any man who will teach and practice the doctrine of spiritual wifery will go to hell, I don’t care if it is my brother Joseph.” [3] Robinson added, “[Don Carlos] was a bitter opposer of the ‘spiritual wife’ doctrine.” [4]

Don Carlos Smith died on August 7, 1841, so this conversation regarding spiritual wifery likely occurred in July 1841. It is not clear if someone was trying to suggest that Joseph Smith taught spiritual wifery or if Don Carlos was using hyperbole to emphasize his opposition. Alternately, it could be that Don Carlos merely referred to a brother and Ebenezer Robinson later presumed the brother must have been Joseph.

Nothing is known of how Thompson is believed to have transgressed, though the context suggests sexual transgression. Joseph Smith would have believed transgression alone could result in death, a belief that was typical of that era at least with regards to cholera. However not every person who died was accused of transgression, suggesting there was additional evidence supporting Joseph’s damning assessment of Thompson.

When Joseph began performing ceremonies (sealings) uniting widows and widowers to their deceased spouses, Mercy Fielding had herself sealed to Robert Thompson, with Hyrum Smith standing proxy.

Brother Knight. The “Brother Knight” William Clayton mentioned was probably Vinson Knight, [5] one of Nauvoo’s bishops, who died on 31 July 1842. Clayton wrote in his diary, “Also Brother Knight he [Joseph Smith] gave him one but he [Knight]  went to loose conduct and he [Joseph Smith] could not save him.” The implication was that “Brother Knight” had died, and Joseph “could not save him.” [6]

Clayton’s diary indicates Joseph Smith had given Bishop Knight responsibility to care for a woman, but that Bishop Knight’s subsequent behavior went beyond what was authorized.

The woman for whom Vinson Knight was caring was Philinda Eldredge [Merrick], a widow whose husband had been killed at Haun’s Mill.

Vinson’s legal wife, Martha McBride, reportedly “knew some thing was worr[y]ing her husband and he could not seem to tell her about it. One evening as she was sitting in the grape arbor behind the house Vinson returned home carrying a basket. He explained to her that he had taken some fruit and vegetables to the widow, [7] Mrs. Levi Merrick, whose husband had been killed at Haun’s Mill… He also explained to her that he had been told to [take responsibility for a woman in need]. [8] That if he had to, this Sister Merrick would be the one he could help best. He must have been greatly relieved when Martha replied, ‘Is that all.’ ” [9]

The conversation between Vinson and his wife must have occurred during the late summer or early fall of 1841, based on the mention of the grape arbor and fruits and vegetables. By the spring of 1842 Philinda was receiving help from the Relief Society, suggesting Vinson had been relieved of responsibility to care for her.

The statement that Vinson Knight “had gone to loose conduct” and Joseph Smith “could not save him” strongly suggests that Knight had become involved in sexual misconduct that Joseph Smith believed had invited the deadly wrath of God.

Neither Vinson Knight’s wife nor the widow he cared for, Philinda Eldredge [Merrick], would choose to have themselves sealed to Vinson in the Nauvoo temple.

B Y. The final person William Clayton mentioned in the journal entry regarding “delicate matters” was Brigham Young. There was no other BY mentioned in all of Hancock County for the 1840 census, [10] and the only individuals with the initials BY of any age or gender during the 1842 Nauvoo census were Brigham Young and Brigham Young Jr., age 5. [11]

In 1839 Brigham Young had led the apostles to England to preach the gospel as the senior member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the LDS Church. In early July 1841 Brigham Young returned to Nauvoo, where he soon became involved in Church discipline regarding the sexual sins of Dr. Bennett and Francis Higbee. By 6 January 1842, Joseph Smith had Brigham Young officiate in the ceremony making Joseph Smith a levirate husband to Agnes Coolbrith [Smith], widow of Joseph’s brother, Don Carlos Smith.

This gives us a window of only 6 months for the reported transgression episode.

After William Clayton refers to the death of Brother Knight, he writes:

“Also B Y had transgressed his covenant and [Joseph] pled with the Lord to spare [Brigham] this end and [the Lord] did so, otherwise [Brigham] would have died. [12] B denied having transgressed.” [13]

There is a well-known incident that occurred between Brigham’s return to Nauvoo and 6 January 1842 where it could be true that Brigham had both transgressed his covenant yet not fully transgressed. The incident involved Martha Brotherton, a young British convert. The incident was discussed in the April 1842 General Conference which was reported in the Times and Seasons and was also documented in an affidavit Martha Brotherton wrote in July 1842.

Martha Brotherton and several members of her family debarked from a riverboat in the Nauvoo area [14] on 25 November 1841, having left England on September 21, 1841, aboard the Tyrian. The leader of her company was Joseph Fielding, brother-in-law to Robert Thompson. At some point almost three weeks after arriving at Nauvoo, Martha Brotherton was reportedly invited to visit Joseph Smith’s Red Brick Store. [15] She knew Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball, who had been missionaries when she and her family joined the Mormon Church. Upon arriving in town, she apparently saw William Clayton, a fellow convert from England who had arrived in Nauvoo a few months earlier and was then working in the tithing office.

Two contemporary mentions of this episode exist. Both the April 1842 rebuttal in the Times and Seasons and the affidavit published by Bennett mention Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball.

According to Martha’s tale, Martha was asked to wait in a room for a period of time. Then Brigham Young came in and asked her to be his partner. Martha asked for time to consider the offer. When she was permitted to leave the room, she fled. She and her parents left the Mormon community nine weeks after arriving in Nauvoo and stayed in St. Louis before leaving the United States and returning to England. This incident is discussed more fully in the chapter Sangamo and Pratt.

The combination of the Clayton journal with the Brotherton story suggests Brigham Young could have been temporarily misled regarding spiritual wifery. Brigham’s conversation with Brotherton caused Martha and her parents to leave the Church. However Brigham Young does not appear to have actually committed sexual transgression.

The Brotherton incident appears to have occurred in December 1841. Martha had arrived in the vicinity of Nauvoo in November 1841, met with Brigham three weeks after arrival, and was still in Nauvoo for the 1842 census (early February 1842), even though leaving with her parents nine weeks after arrival. In December 1841, Brigham Young could have been receiving his guidance about acquiring extra “wives” from someone influenced by Dr. Bennett.

It might be argued that the story Martha Brotherton told was entirely fabricated. However several details of the story can be verified. And historians must account for the fact that Brigham Young would have Martha Brotherton sealed to him by proxy decades later, after she passed away. It seems unlikely Brigham would seal a woman to himself if the sole basis of their relationship was a fabricated slander.

Presuming Brigham’s interaction with Martha Brotherton was attempted spiritual wifery rather than authorized Celestial marriage, it appears Brigham repented.

Kimball, Smith, and Law.

From the Martha Brotherton story, we see that other high profile individuals may have been misled by the heresy of spiritual wifery in 1841.

Heber C. Kimball. The first man mentioned in association with the Martha Brotherton incident in both the April 1842 General Conference rebuttal and Martha’s July 1842 affidavit is Heber Kimball.

Helen Mar Kimball wrote:  “Before my father ever heard that such a principle had been revealed to Joseph Smith he said to some friends in my hearing that if “all things were to be restored again as they were in the beginning,” as the scriptures declare them, the principle of a plurality of wives must also be restored…” [16]

A tradition passed down in the Kimball family relates that Heber understood he was supposed to take responsibility for additional women/wives. Heber formed a plan to approach the Pitkin sisters, elderly spinsters who had cared for him when he was on his way to England in 1840.

Heber presented his plan to Joseph Smith, who promptly proceeded to forbid such a course. According to Stanley Kimball, “Joseph had to warn him [Heber Kimball] that he could lose his apostleship and to command him three times to obey.” [17]

Stanley B. Kimball clearly believed the command to obey related to entering into the practice of plural marriage. However, the extreme nature of the threat makes more sense if Heber was on the verge of committing a sin, rather than merely not embracing Celestial marriage.

It appears Heber Kimball’s conversation with Joseph Smith must have occurred after his reported involvement in the Martha Brotherton incident. At some point in 1842, Heber Kimball was asked to take in Sarah Peak [Noon], an abandoned woman who had several children. [18] Sarah Noon would give birth in 1842. Sarah’s child died in infancy, frustrating any attempt to positively identify the child’s biological father. Thus it is not possible to be certain whether Sarah became pregnant as a plural wife to Heber Kimball or if she was pregnant before Heber Kimball took responsibility for her in 1842.

Hyrum Smith. Hyrum was the one who delivered the April 1842 rebuttal to the rumor regarding Martha Brotherton. The 15 April 1842 edition of the Times and Seasons reported Hyrum’s remarks as follows:

“Pres’t H. Smith spoke concerning the elders who went forth to preach from Kirtland…

“He 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. Also cautioned the sisters against going to the steam boats.

Hyrum’s rebuttal of the rumor was followed by comments from Joseph Smith.

“Pres’t J. Smith spoke upon the subject of the stories respecting Elder Kimball and others, showing the folly and inconsistency of spending any time in conversing about such stories or hearkening to them, for there is no person that is acquainted with our principles would believe such lies, except Sharp the editor of the “Warsaw Signal.” [19]

The reported rumor involved locking a woman in a room for several days. When Martha herself described the incident, she claimed she had been alone in the room for only ten minutes while Brigham went to fetch Smith. The door had been locked during the incident to exclude those who were not directly involved in the discussion at hand. Therefore neither Hyrum nor Joseph was technically lying to deny the “report in circulation,” which claimed several days of coercive confinement.

Martha Brotherton’s July affidavit claimed the three men who tried to convince her to be Brigham’s second wife were Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and Heber Kimball. Dr. John Bennett had requested Martha produce the affidavit for use in his attack on Joseph Smith. In Dr. Bennett’s articles and book, he would claim Joseph Smith was the seducer in situations where other ecclesiastical or legal testimony clarifies that Dr. Bennett had been the seducer. Given the established pattern where Dr. Bennett created or solicited fraudulent testimony expressly to damage Joseph Smith, Martha’s account cannot be taken at face value.

It should be considered that when Martha’s original story was gossip, the rumor featured Heber Kimball, Brigham Young, and Hyrum Smith. Surely if Joseph had been featured in the original rumor, the General Conference rebuttal would have addressed that slander. Given the extreme nature of the rumor, it makes no sense to avoid naming Joseph Smith, had he been party to the actual incident. Moreover, the words Martha would put in Joseph’s mouth as part of her affidavit do not make any sense coming from Joseph, but do make sense coming from an unwitting Hyrum.

It may be argued that Martha’s entire story was a fabrication. But her story resonates with other accounts. The words Martha puts in the mouth of Smith echo the words Dr. Bennett had used to coerce Catherine Fuller. Martha also claims Smith cited powers that had specifically been conferred on Hyrum Smith in his role as Church Patriarch. Meanwhile, Martha’s claim that Smith was worried about being able to get exclusive access to the Red Brick Store in the future does not make any sense if spoken by Joseph Smith, the proprietor of the store.

There is indication that Joseph reprimanded both Brigham Young and Heber Kimball in the winter of 1841/42, but subsequently involved them in activities related to Celestial marriage. On the other hand, Joseph would withhold information regarding Celestial marriage from his brother, Hyrum, until April 1843.

After December 1841, we see Hyrum Smith advocating that the priesthood go to every home, including his home, to teach the people their Christian duty. Had an unwitting Hyrum previously been involved in spreading heresy, this outreach to every household could have been used to refute the incorrect teachings.

William Law. In June 1844, Hyrum Smith would testify before the Nauvoo City Council, accusing William Law of committing adultery. Hyrum related William Law’s confession, delivered while prostrated by illness:

“Wm Law when sick said ^he had been guilty of adultery &^ he was not fit to live or die, had sinned against his own soul &c.”

But in 1844 William Law was not penitent. Though the account was delivered in 1844, the vignette Hyrum described fits an earlier time when transgression was corrected with compassion and forgiveness. This earlier time corresponds with the “time when charity had covered a multitude of sins,” during the winter of 1841/1842.

Widows, Orphans, and Foreigners.

Dr. Bennett’s descent into depravity has a clear trajectory. By the time he coerced Catherine Fuller to satisfy his desires, Dr. Bennett was positioned at the highest level of the Church, the government, and the military. This alone suggests how so many good individuals were exposed to the idea that it was right to advocate or engage in illicit intercourse.

Additionally, several high profile men had been aware of some aspect of Bennett’s disgraceful past. George Miller was the bishop Joseph had sent to investigate the assertion that Bennett had abandoned his legal wife. William Law and Hyrum Smith had tumbled across the tale of Bennett’s wife in June 1841 while they were serving a mission in the east. Brigham Young, Hyrum Smith, and others had been privy to the July events where Francis Higbee and Dr. John Bennett had confessed to sexual sin. Each of these high profile men would have had reason to talk with Bennett to understand what he had to say for himself. Bennett had motive to come up with a plausible explanation for his activities, particularly as his continued sexual liberties were discovered.

It appears Dr. Bennett persuaded those questioning him that there was benefit for the women. The affair with Sarah Pratt could have been explained as beginning with medical treatment for her hysteria. Dr. Bennett’s interaction with Catherine Fuller provided her with access to food. Several men clearly became convinced they had a moral duty to provide for women in addition to their legal wives, with sexuality presumed to be part of the duty. This belief that men had a responsibility to care for widows or spinsters is specifically reported in the case of Bishop Vinson Knight and Apostle Heber C. Kimball at a time when it is not credible that the assignment was endorsed by Joseph Smith. In fact, Joseph Smith specifically forbade Heber Kimball from making the Pitkin spinsters his wives. [20]

It is possible that Joseph Smith had encouraged men to care for widows, orphans, spinsters, and the impoverished foreigners that began to arrive in Nauvoo in 1841. It is unlikely that Joseph intended that this care should include conjugal relations in 1841.

Even so, Joseph clearly did believe he was under commandment to teach the possibility of plural marriage in the context of Celestial marriage.

Dr. Bennett “Specified Joseph’s Name”.

In October 1841, Dr. Bennett specifically began to claim Joseph endorsed illicit intercourse. We see this in the extended testimony of Catherine Laur [Fuller Warren]:

“Sometime last winter I became alarmed at my conduct and told him [Dr. Bennett] I did not wish his company any longer. He told me that the heads of the Church were conducting in that manner ^and specified Joseph’s name^ I think this happened last October. He said that Joseph taught and conducted in the above manner.

“He also was with Mrs. Shindle now living beyond Ramus and also with the two Miss Nymans…”

“L. O. Littlefield had been at my house and made propositions to have unlawful intercourse – he urged hard. This was about the last of January or first of February, had been 3 or 4 times in course of 2 or 3 weeks. He urged doctrines such as the following, namely that there was no harm in having unlawful intercourse, that others conducted in the same way, there should be no sin come upon her—if there was any it should come upon himself, that the heads of the church now practicing the same things – named Joseph Smith – he urged this doctrine – was there about the first of February about 8 in the evening.” [21]

From the affidavits sworn out during 1842, it seems at least a dozen men had either seduced women or were attempting to pressure women to yield to them. The common thread in the testimonies was the men’s assurance that it was right to engage in intercourse as long as it was kept secret. More details of these affidavits are covered in the chapter Arraigning the Band of Brothers.

There have been several interpretations of these accounts.

First, it has been presumed those mentioned in the accounts were operating with the full authorization of Joseph Smith, but had the misfortune to be discovered. Thus they sacrificed themselves and their good names to protect the secret of polygamy.

Second, it has been presumed that the men had learned something of Joseph’s doctrine permitting plural marriage, but over-reached Joseph’s intent.

Third, it has been presumed that the affidavits accurately portrayed exactly what happened. This paints the men as vile seducers operating without authorization.

Unfortunately, few scholars have taken the affidavits at face value. Most scholars have supposed stories regarding any form of unusual sexuality in Nauvoo were related to Joseph Smith’s teachings regarding Celestial marriage and plural marriage. Joseph Smith and his faithful followers have borne the blame for the coercion and objectification experienced by the women seduced by Dr. Bennett and his followers.

Multiple Wives in Turkey or India.

One possible source of the October certainty that Joseph condoned illicit intercourse was a Thursday morning sermon where Joseph mentioned plural marriage. Though no one recorded the exact date of the sermon, several individuals documented Joseph mentioning how the Saints might need to embrace the possibility of a man having multiple wives when the gospel was taught in Turkey or India. [22] It is reported that during the lunch break Emma Smith and other women demanded that Joseph take back his words about multiple wives. After lunch the meeting reconvened, and Joseph recanted his words. This sermon may have caused the change Catherine Fuller reported.

Unwitting Betrayal.

Another possible source for Bennett’s use of Joseph’s name is suggested by Bennett’s later exposé of Mormonism. As Bennett began naming names, he included Joseph Bates Noble as having performed the marriage between Joseph Smith and Louisa Beaman. Bennett’s likely informant in this was Joseph Bates Noble himself.

When Joseph Smith had told Noble about plural marriage, he had cautioned, “In revealing this to you, I have placed my life in your hands, therefore do not in an evil hour betray me to my enemies.” [23] Yet when a variation of the spiritual wifery heresy reached Noble, he may have presumed it was a description of the kind of plural marriage he had encouraged Louisa Beaman to accept. It is not impossible that Noble thought high leaders, such as Dr. Bennett, might already know about plural marriage. It is reasonable to suggest that Noble thought it was safe to share information regarding Joseph’s covenant with Louisa Beaman.

Other Casualties of Heresy.

Most have seen the 1842 Nauvoo High Council testimonies as careful lies to hide Joseph’s polygamy. [24] But if there was a widespread heresy advocating illicit intercourse, it may call into question tales previously presumed to reflect Joseph’s teachings. It is possible some of these instances of “legitimate” plural marriage might be describing instances of spiritual wifery.

Here are some proposed tells that a story might be discussing spiritual wifery:

  1. The women are not named or numbered.
  2. Crude terminology is used.
  3. Women are shared between multiple men.
  4. Joseph calls the person to repentance or otherwise suggests that they risked damnation.
  5. They themselves claim that it is acceptable for a man to engage in sex with a woman without benefit of marriage.
  6. The man in question is sent away from Nauvoo.

William Smith. Joseph Smith’s younger brother had been a problem for years, certainly since initially refusing to ally himself with Mormonism in order to continue sowing his wild oats. Joseph Smith had insisted on selecting his problematic brother as one of the initial twelve apostles over the objections of others, indicating it would save William’s soul. Yet when William felt he was being disrespected, he could become violent. He once beat Joseph so severely that Joseph appears to have suffered broken ribs. [25] When others betrayed Joseph in 1838, William called for Joseph’s death. [26] William would stay away from Nauvoo until November 1841. When he arrived in Nauvoo, the heresy of illicit intercourse was at its height.

The women’s affidavits in 1842 claimed that William had been involved in persuading women to participate in illicit intercourse. Catherine Fuller claimed that on the morning of her marriage to Brother Warren, William Smith came to her to get her to abandon marriage and remain available to himself for unlawful intercourse. [27]

Joseph attempted to reform his young brother. Despite Joseph’s best efforts, it became clear after Joseph’s death that William continued to teach and practice unlawful sexual intercourse. In 1845 William would openly proclaim to believers in Nauvoo that he believed in spiritual wifery. [28]

William would be excommunicated by the LDS Church and by all the LDS sects with which he subsequently affiliated in the decade after Joseph’s death. Late in life he would join the RLDS Church. William would never be granted the leadership position he clearly believed was his blood right.

John Snider and Joseph Kelly. In 1850 John Snider’s son-in-law, Joseph Ellis Johnson, submitted to Church discipline related to his seduction of a plural wife of Lorenzo Snow. In the course of the testimony, the seduction of Johnson’s mother-in-law was entered into evidence. Johnson would state “He was familiar with the first frigging that was done in his house with his mother in law—by Joseph.” Frigging is a pejorative term for illicit sex. It appears the individual frigging Johnson’s mother-in-law had believed Dr. Bennett’s tales that there was no harm in sex if no one found out.

Joseph Kelly, like Johnson, had been specifically brought to Salt Lake City for this trial by Orson Hyde. Orson Hyde would say “[Joseph] Kelly told him John [Snider?] knew what he was about—it was done in [Snider’s] house by bro Joseph [Kelly?]…” [29]

Given the crudeness of the term used (frigging), it seems unlikely that there is an honorable interpretation of this sordid tale involving Joseph Kelly, John Snider, and Mary Heron [Snider]. In addition, the implication that John Snider knew what Joseph Kelly “was about” is troubling.

If Joseph Ellis Johnson was talking about John Snider and Joseph Kelly, it appears they subsequently repented and remained faithful Mormons.

Joseph W. Coolidge. In August 1870, Joseph F. Smith was attempting to collect any information regarding plural marriage that might refute the claim that Joseph had never taught plural marriage. Coolidge claimed “Joseph Smith had sealed more than one wife to Jos. W. Coolidge, and he ‘knew’ as he said, what he spoke.”

Though the testimony seemed to support Joseph F. Smith’s agenda of proving Joseph Smith advocated plural marriage, Joseph F. Smith was wary of the story. He wrote, “I record this as the testimony of a man who has not been with the Church for more than 20 years.”

One might argue that Coolidge’s participation in temple sealings in 1846 showed him to be an upstanding participant in plural marriage. Yet proven debaucher, William Smith, had also been readmitted to the society of the Saints for a time. Unlike Coolidge, the men known to have learned of plural marriage directly from Joseph Smith would all follow Brigham Young to Utah.

John E. Page. John E. Page was baptized by Emer Harris in 1833. The deaths and defections associated with the 1837-38 troubles in Kirtland and Missouri had drastically depleted the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Page and John Taylor were ordained apostles on December 19, 1838, to fill vacancies in this leading body of the Church.

Despite being designated an apostle, Page repeatedly rebelled against Joseph Smith and the rest of the apostles. Page refused to embark on the mission to England under the leadership of Brigham Young. After returning to Nauvoo in the 1841/1842 timeframe, John E. Page tended to disagree with Joseph and his fellows in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

Following Joseph’s death, Page is one of the myriad leaders who attempted to claim leadership of the LDS Church. He was finally dropped from the Quorum of the Twelve on January 9, 1846, for failing to sustain the exodus from Nauvoo led by Brigham Young. Less than three weeks later he was excommunicated for urging the saints to abandon Brigham Young’s leadership and align themselves with James Strang.

Page’s association with Emer Harris and James Strang puts him squarely in the circle of those willing to conspire against Joseph Smith circa 1844, many of whom had been involved in spiritual wifery circa 1841/1842.

In 1904 Joseph Fielding Smith, then 28 years old, visited Mary Judd [Page], [30] a resident of St. Louis and third civil wife of John E. Page. Following up on his father’s efforts to document any instance that resembled polygamy in Nauvoo during Joseph Smith’s lifetime, Joseph Fielding Smith questioned the aged woman:

Q. Did John E. Page have wives other than you?

A. Yes.

Q. How did he get them?

A. I gave them to him.

Q. How come you did that?

A. Well, he wanted them and I gave them to him.

Q. Well, that was in the days of the Prophet JosephSmith[?]

A. Yes, it was. [31]

It is possible that John E. Page’s “plural wives” were granted to him within the context of Joseph Smith’s teachings. Yet there is no documentation confirming when Page would have been united with the women historians list as his plural wives. Mary Judd [Page] did not name the wives she “gave” to John E. Page, which included her two sisters, Rachel and Lois. Nothing about the Joseph Fielding Smith interview distinguishes John E. Page’s acquisition of “wives” from Bennett’s heresy.

Orange Lysander Wight. Orange Wight was the teenage son of Apostle Lyman Wight, member of a family which had been part of the Mormon movement since the earliest days of the Church. In 1903 Orange Wight wrote a letter to Joseph I. Earl describing his “recollections of early times of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” [32] In the letter Orange Wight discusses his introduction to polygamy.

In 1841 Orange learned that John Higbee had two wives. John Higbee, brother to Nauvoo judge, Elias Higbee, had protected young Orange and his family in Missouri.

Orange mentions girls calling themselves “spirituals” in summer 1841, indicating that he was well behind his teenage peers when he himself was fully initiated in the winter of 1841/42.

Sometime in the spring of 1842, Orange was sent on a mission to the Eastern States. He was on this mission for 13 months before returning to Nauvoo in 1843.

Lyman Wight. Lyman Wight was an apostle, like William Smith, John E. Page, Brigham Young, and Heber Kimball. Lyman’s documented “polygamy” occurred after 1841-42. However Lyman’s wives were women he took to himself in Wisconsin, with no indication that Brigham Young had granted Wight permission to administer to himself in this manner. [33]

It is possible Lyman’s beliefs in this area arose from the example of his son. However it seems odd that a parent who was an apostle would adopt a heretical marriage practice from their teenaged son. A more likely probability is that Lyman Wight had been aware of or involved in the spiritual wifery heresy in 1841-42, then reverted to a practice of accumulating additional wives when it suited him, rather than submit to the orderly system managed by Brigham’s authority.

Horace  Whitney. It is not clear that Horace actually embraced illicit intercourse. However on May 12, 1842, [34] Horace was sent away from Nauvoo. The trip was ostensibly to visit his mother’s parents in North Canaan County, Connecticut and other relatives in Ohio. Horace would be kept from Nauvoo for over two years. Horace would not return to Nauvoo until after the death of Joseph Smith.

Helen Mar Kimball [Smith Whitney] wrote in 1881 about Horace’s departure from Nauvoo as a young teenager. Helen’s future sister-in-law, Sarah Whitney, had covenanted with Joseph Smith in 1842:

“but had to do it unbeknown to her brother, which grieved her most, and also her mother, that they could not open their hearts to him. But Joseph feared to disclose it, believing that the Higbee boys would embitter Horace against him, as they had already caused serious trouble, and for this reason he favored his [Horace’s] going east, which Horace was slow to accept. He had had some slight suspicions that the stories about Joseph were not all without foundation, but had never told them, nor did he know the facts until after his return to Nauvoo, when Sarah hastened to tell him all.

It was no small stumbling block to him when learning of the course which had been taken towards him, which was hard for him to overlook. But Joseph had always treated him with the greatest kindness from the time that he came to live in his father’s house in Kirtland. In fact they had attended the same school and studied Hebrew together, and had pitched quoits and played ball together many a time there and in Nauvoo, and he could hold nothing against him now he was dead.” [35]

Writing four decades after the events of 1842, Helen is gentle to the memory of her long-time husband when describing the urgency with which Horace was sent from Nauvoo. Even so, it is clear that Horace’s opposition to Joseph, in light of the rumors Horace had believed, was only softened in 1844 because the man he had known so well was now dead.

Sin Remembered as Sacrifice.

A common theme in these stories is that they have been interpreted as instances where individuals were acting in accordance with Joseph Smith’s doctrine of the New and Everlasting Covenant, which permitted plural marriage.

Yet those who have interpreted these stories as legitimate instances of plural marriage were unaware that any other than Dr. Bennett and a few known reprobates were involved in illicit intercourse. Even Dr. Bennett’s activities have been interpreted as merely incorrect application of the principle of plural marriage, rather than as actions associated with vile heresy.

This has affected the interpretation of other historical events. Most notably, this interpretation has cast Emma Hale [Smith] as ignorant of her husband’s teachings and actions. Emma is seen as fighting against the plural marriage Joseph was working to establish and practice. Further, she is seen as rejecting the women who would covenant with Joseph.

While Emma undoubtedly was conflicted about select aspects of plural marriage, there is every reason to believe that when she decried “heinous sins,” she was reacting to a sexual heresy that she and Joseph were both working to counteract.

A Multitude of Sins – Notes.

Dr. John C. Bennett’s various positions of authority gave him scope to spread the sexual heresy throughout all aspects of Nauvoo society. In October 1841 the seducers began to specifically attribute their teachings to Joseph Smith.

Contemporary documents suggest several Church leaders were persuaded to embrace the heresy. By the time of Joseph’s thirty-sixth birthday in December, 1841, he likely knew terrible things were being taught in Nauvoo. According to the journal of William Clayton, Joseph pled with the Lord on behalf of B Y, who had started down a path of transgression. Brigham Young is the only known “B Y” to fit the context of the Clayton journal. The window when Joseph’s pleading occurred likely fell between Brigham’s attempt to acquire Martha Brotherton as a partner in December 1841 and the date we see Brigham officiating at Joseph’s sealing to Agnes Coolbrith [Smith] in January 1842.

Joseph’s brother, Apostle William Smith, was definitely ensnared. Teenage boys, respectable women, and leading men in the Mormon community had been affected.

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[1] Card, Maurine Carr, 1842 Census of Nauvoo – Identification of Members – Civil Ward One, pp.32-33.

[2] Clayton, William, see Smith, George D., An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton, Signature Books, 1995, p. 108.

[3] Robinson, Ebenezer, The Return, Volume 2, Number 7 (July 1890): 302, see also Volume 2, Number 6 (June 1890): 287.

[4] Robinson, Ebenezer, The Return, Volume 2, Number 7 (July 1890): 302, see also Volume 2, Number 6 (June 1890): 287.

[5] George D. Smith presumed the “Brother Knight” was Newel Knight. However Newel Knight had not died by the time William Clayton wrote his journal entry.

[6] Smith, George, An Intimate Chronicle, p. 108.

[7] Mention of fruit and vegetables implies the conversation occurred in the fall.

[8] Account says “enter Plural Marriage.” As this is a late account written by someone from within the Mormon faith tradition. I question whether Vinson used that term.

[9] Quoted in Bergera, “The Earliest Mormon Polygamists,” Dialogue, from Delia Belnap, Martha McBridge Knight, typescript, not paginated, LDS Church Archives; courtesy Todd Compton.

[10] Brigham Young was in England for the entirety of 1840, but the census records his household under his name and includes a mark for a male between the ages of 30 and 40.

[11] My thanks to Bryan Stout for reviewing all the Hancock County records for the 1840 census as well as the 1842 Nauvoo census, which lists all members of Nauvoo households by name. It is remotely possible B. Y. might refer to someone not covered by the 1842 Nauvoo City census, who was not the head of household listed in the 1840 census, or whose nickname started with a “B.” However, the Martha Brotherton story suggests the B. Y. of Clayton’s journal was Brigham Young.

[12] Given Joseph’s assertion that B. Y. would have died, it is worth noting that Brigham Young apparently suffered a stroke in about 1842. This previously unknown stroke is mentioned in an 1868 address was only recently transcribed from George D. Watts’s shorthand by LaJean P. Carruth. LaJean Carruth places the stroke in 1842 based on contextual clues, but Brigham did not further specify what time of the year the stroke occurred or if there was any associated event or reason. LaJean Carruth’s comment about the 1842 stroke is at 00:47:43-00:47:58 of podcast “Episode 22: In Brigham Young’s Words – Gerrit Dirkmaat and LaJean Carruth,” Mormon Perspectives Podcast of 15 Feb 2017, audio online 2 Mar 2017 at http://www.millennialstar.org/revisiting-the-journal-of-discourses, , also see http://www.millennialstar.org/revisiting-the-journal-of-discourses/#comment-159593.

[13] In the Mormon hierarchy of wrongful acts, a distinction is made between sin (knowingly acting against commandment) and transgression (unwittingly acting against commandment). Both of these are seen to be more serious than mere mistakes and errors.

[14] Paul B. Pixton, The Tyrian and Its Mormon Passengers, pp. 45-46. Thomas Brotherton wrote the letter describing their arrival in Warsaw on 25 Nov 1841. The river was too low for the riverboat to continue further upriver. According to Joseph Fielding Smith and Thomas Brotherton, the first heavy snowstorm of the winter started that day, making travel to Nauvoo itself problematic.

[15] The Red Brick Store opened for business on 5 January 1842.

[16] Jeni Broberg Holzapfel and Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, eds., A Woman’s View: Helen Mar Whitney’s Reminiscences of Early Church History (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1997), 109–34, Chapter 4: Scenes in Nauvoo, online 2 Mar 2017 at https://rsc.byu.edu/archived/womans-view-helen-mar-whitneys-reminiscences-early-church-history/4-scenes-nauvoo.

[17] Kimball, Stanley B., Heber C. Kimball: Mormon Patriarch and Pioneer. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1981, p. 95. Online 29 Nov 2015 at http://mormonpolygamydocuments.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/JSP_Book_61.pdf.

[18] Helen Mar Kimball would describe the early days of the Noon family in Nauvoo: “[William Noon] loved his wife and children with all the affection of which he was capable, but was so brutal to them when under the influence of liquor, that twice [prior to leaving England] she had been obliged to leave him and seek refuge in the homes of her brothers; but after many professions and promises of reform she was induced to return. This first time I ever saw [Brother Noon] was a few days after their arrival in Nauvoo; he was then half intoxicated. [Sarah] was proud and very sensitive, and being among strangers in a strange land, it placed her under very peculiar and trying circumstances. My father and mother and the neighbors were very kind to her. They rented a log house of a Mr. Hibbard, an old settler in Commerce… Mr. [Noon] came home so drunk that his abusive treatment of his wife and children outraged the feelings of Mr. Hibbard and family, and they interfered and drove him from the house. His wife could no longer live with him, and soon after he returned to England.” See Jeni Broberg Holzapfel and Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, eds., A Woman’s View: Helen Mar Whitney’s Reminiscences of Early Church History (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1997), 135–239, “Scenes and Incidents in Nauvoo,” online 2 Mar 2017 at https://rsc.byu.edu/archived/womans-view-helen-mar-whitneys-reminiscences-early-church-history/5-scenes-and-incidents.

[19] Times and Seasons, 15 Apr 1842, p. 763

[20] After Joseph’s death, when it became necessary to flee Nauvoo, Heber Kimball would reach out to the Pitkins and make them his plural wives. As Joseph was dead, it is not clear what Joseph might have said about his apostles’ use of plural marriage to offer protection for the exodus.

[21] Nauvoo testimonies before the High Council, May 1842.

[22] Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy. Hales does not specify which date this sermon occurred, but includes fall 1841 as one possibility.

[23] Boyack, Hazel Noble, A Nobleman in Israel: A Biographical Sketch of Joseph Bates Noble, Pioneer to Utah in 1847. The Pioneer Printing Company, Cheyenne, Wyoming, 1962.

[24] An example of this interpretation is found in Gary Bergera’s article, “‘Illicit Intercourse,’ Plural Marriage, and the Nauvoo Stake High Council, 1840-1844,” The John Whitmer Historical Association Journal, 23, 2003, pp. 59-91.

[25] Walker, Kyle R., William B. Smith: In the Shadow of a Prophet. Greg Kofford Books, Draper, UT, 2015, pp. 114-115.

[26] Walker, William B. Smith: In the Shadow of a Prophet, pp. 141-142. Walker suggests William’s verbal abuse of Joseph’s memory may have been motivated by persuading potential enemies that he was not a Mormon sympathizer, a somewhat generous view of the situation.

[27] Catherine Fuller statement before the Nauvoo High Council, LDS Archives MS/d/2375/Box 8/fd. Nauvoo, copied and included in the Valeen T. Avery Papers USU_COLL MSS 316, Box 24, Fd 14, Special Collections and Archives, Utah State University Merrill-Cazier Library, Logan, Utah.

[28] Walker, Kyle R.,  William B. Smith: In the Shadow of a Prophet, Greg Kofford Books, Draper, UT, 2015, p. 297, citing Beecher, All Things Move in Order in the City, p. 318.

[29] Misc. Minutes, Brigham Young Collection, d 1234, Church History Library, 2 Sep 1850, restricted; excerpts transcribed by D. Michael Quinn, box 3, folder 2, D. Michael Quinn papers, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, WA MSS S-2692. Quinn and other researchers presume the testimony in the Johnson trial describes a conjugal relationship between Joseph Smith and Mary Heron [Snider].

[30] Mary Judd [Page] wrote the words to the hymn, “Ye Who are Called to Labor,” which is included in the 1985 LDS hymnal as hymn #321.

[31] Bergera, “Earliest Mormon Polygamists,” Dialogue.

[32] Wight, Orange, 1903. Online 3 Apr 2016 at http://www.boap.org/LDS/Early-Saints/OWight.html.

[33] Bergera, “Earliest Mormon Polygamists,” Dialogue.

[34] Helen’s article states this occurred in 1843, but the year 1842 is clear from the context. See Whitney, Helen Mar Kimball, “Scenes and Incidents in Nauvoo,” Woman’s Exponent, 11 (1882-1883), online 29 Nov 2015 at .

[35] Whitney, Helen Mar Kimball, “Scenes and Incidents in Nauvoo,” Woman’s Exponent, 11 (1882-1883), online 29 Nov 2015 at .