<<< Prior Chapter >>> Next Chapter Notes

Joseph is known to have covenanted with two women in the weeks following his likely December 1841 discovery of the illicit intercourse heresy. Joseph had initially felt impressed to covenant with Mary Rollins in 1834. Agnes Coolbrith was the widow of Joseph’s brother.

Each of these women would document decades later that they knew secrets about the past of which Joseph F. Smith, Hyrum’s son, was ignorant. One woman would indicate the secrets had been told her by those who were dead and gone, implying Joseph and Hyrum Smith. The other would specify the secrets were related to Hyrum Smith.

Agnes Coolbrith [Smith].

Agnes Coolbrith was the widow of Joseph’s brother, Don Carlos Smith. Don Carlos had died in August 1841.

Don Carlos and Agnes had three daughters. The youngest, Josephine Anna, [1] was born only a few months before Don Carlos’s untimely death.

Agnes did not record whether the tale of the angel and the sword played a role in either Joseph’s decision to ask her to become his celestial wife, or her decision to agree. However the date of the sealing falls in the midst of other sealings that were expressly in response to the angelic threat. On January 6th, the presumed day of the sealing ceremony between Joseph and Agnes, Joseph wrote:

“Truly this is a day long to be remembered by the saints of the Last Days; a day in which the God of heaven has begun to restore the ancient order of his Kingdom…all things are concurring together to bring about the completion of the fullness of the gospel.” [2]

Notably, Brigham Young reportedly performed the ceremony where Joseph and Agnes covenanted with one another. Brigham’s participation in the ceremony between Joseph and Agnes signaled the first known involvement of someone other than Joseph Smith and a family member of the wife in a Celestial marriage ceremony. It also likely signals that Joseph Smith felt B Y was no longer in mortal peril for his errors.

With Agnes, we arrive at a seeming contradiction. Agnes told Mary Ann West, who lived with her after Don Carlos’s death, that Don Carlos wished for Joseph to marry Agnes after Don Carlos’s death. [3] However in 1890 Ebenezer Robinson would recount a time when 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.” Robinson added, “[Don Carlos] was a bitter opposer of the ‘spiritual wife’ doctrine.” [4]

However the contradiction evaporates when we consider Don Carlos would have seen his brother providing for Agnes within a biblical levirate marriage, while his statements regarding spiritual wifery referred to illicit intercourse, adultery, and fornication.

Shortly after Joseph’s death, the only Smith brother remaining was William Smith. There is no indication Agnes wished William to step into Don Carlos’s place in Joseph’s stead. Agnes married a convert, William Pickett, who stood proxy when Agnes was sealed to Don Carlos for eternity. In time Pickett fell away from the Church. By the time Agnes separated from Pickett, she and her children were stranded in California, near San Francisco. Agnes’s youngest daughter grew to be ashamed of her father’s family and her Mormon heritage. [5] But Agnes retained her fondness for her husband’s relatives.

On May 30, 1864, Agnes wrote to Joseph F. Smith, son of Hyrum Smith.

“Joseph, my Dear Nephew I acknowledge none greater than yourself none greater than those that belong to the household of Joseph our Dear Dear Dear departed one Joseph there is none greater there is none better none more honest and upright…

“I could say many things to you Joseph that I know and that has been told me by those that are dead and gone but perhaps you would not believe me no I know that you would not so it is best for me to keep silent.” [6]

It is clear Agnes still honored Joseph Smith, her one-time levirate husband. It is unclear whether Joseph F. Smith ever took the time to learn the secrets Agnes hinted she could share.

Mary Elizabeth Rollins [Lightner].

Joseph had been impressed with Mary Rollins from the time she was a pre-teen, in 1831. While in Zion (Missouri), there was a time folks were speaking in tongues, but without interpretation. Mary provided the interpretation: mobs would drive the Saints from Jackson County. The leaders were upset and wrote Joseph, asking that Mary be reprimanded. Instead, Joseph backed her up. [7]

A few years later Mary was on hand when the mobs did attack. Their target was the Mormon printing press. Mary and her sister, Caroline, saw the mob throw the unbound pages out the window as they set the press ablaze. Mary ran to the precious sheets, containing the initial pages of the Book of Commandments. The mob saw the girls and gave chase. Mary and Caroline dove into the cornfields, clutching the pages to their bodies. Somehow the mob failed to locate the girls. [8] Mary surrendered the pages to Sister Phelps, who had the surviving pages bound into books. One of these books was presented to Mary, who prized it very highly. [9]

The destruction of the printing press in Zion occurred by 1834. Joseph would relate he was strongly prompted to ask Mary to be his plural wife in 1834, the first year he indicates the angel appeared and commanded him to act. But Joseph would fail to act at that time. [10]

The following year in August, 1835, Mary became the bride of Adam Lightner, who was not Mormon. [11] Despite her marriage to Lightner, for several years Mary would have dreams in which she was the wife of Joseph Smith. [12]

In the fall of 1841, when the angel’s threat prompted Joseph to act, Mary Rollins Lightner was one of those he spoke with. She would refuse him until February 1842, when she agreed to allow Brigham Young to perform the ceremony linking her to Joseph Smith. As in the case of Zina Huntington [Jacobs], Mary Rollins [Lightner] was in the third trimester of pregnancy when she covenanted with Joseph Smith. Algernon Lightner was born and died in 1842. Florentine, a daughter conceived after Algernon’s death, died in 1847. Mary never suggested her children were fathered by Joseph Smith, though speculating about the possibility that Joseph had fathered the children of others.

In 1905 Mary Elizabeth Lightner stood before a group at Brigham Young University and spoke of her interactions with Joseph Smith.

“An angel came to him [Joseph Smith] and the last time he came with a drawn sword in his hand and told Joseph if he did not go into that principle, he would slay him. Joseph said he talked to him soberly about it, and told him it was an abomination and quoted scripture to him. He said in the Book of Mormon it was an abomination in the eyes of the Lord, and they were to adhere to these things except the Lord speak… [The Prophet said ‘the] angel came to me three times between the years of 1834 and 1842 and said I was to obey that principle or he would slay me.’ ” [13]

But there was more.

In the summer of 1905 Mary wrote to Emmeline Wells, saying:

“I could tell [Joseph F. Smith] a great many Some things about his Father that Joseph said he does not know about the early days of the Church…” [14]

Elsewhere Mary would also write:

“I could tell you why I stayed with Mr. Lightner. Things the [current] leaders of the Church does not know anything about. I did just as Joseph told me to do…” [15]

By February 1842, as Mary Elizabeth Lightner hints, Joseph seems to have learned that terrible liberties were being taken with women in Nauvoo. Joseph’s purpose in covenanting with Mary Elizabeth appeared to be related to reacting to the heresy of illicit intercourse, details of which the Church leadership in 1905 was largely ignorant.

Specifically, Mary Elizabeth knew things about Hyrum Smith of which his son, Church President Joseph F. Smith, was ignorant.

They Could Have Told Many Things – Notes.

Joseph Smith entered into Celestial marriage covenants with Agnes Coolbrith [Smith] and Mary Elizabeth Rollins [Lightner] in the first two months of 1842. Each marriage fulfilled angelic or biblical mandate. Though Mary [Lightner] had a daughter following her covenant with Joseph, there is no reason to believe the child was not fathered by her legal husband, non-Mormon Adam Lightner.

Both these women would hint that they knew something about those early days that later Church leader and historian, Joseph F. Smith, knew nothing about.

<<< Prior Chapter >>> Next Chapter Top

[1] Josephine would grow up to be the first female poet laureate of any American state. Of interest, the name she used as an adult expressly rejects Joseph Smith, removing those elements from her birth name and adopting her mother’s maiden name. Josephine Anna Smith remade herself into Ina Donna Coolbrith.

[2] Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 154.

[3] Temple Lot transcript, respondent’s testimony, part 3, pp 521-522, questions 679, 687.

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

[5] Agnes’s daughter would achieve fame as the first California poet laureate. She went by the name Ina Donna Coolbrith, explicitly rejecting the “Joseph Smith” portions of her birth name, which had been Josephine Donna Smith.

[6] Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, pp. 166-167.

[7] Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, pp. 208-209.

[8] Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 209.

[9] Autobiography of Mary E. Lightner (1818 – 1913), The Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine 17 (July 1926):193-205, online 10 Mar 2014 at http://www.boap.org/LDS/Early-Saints/MLightner.html.

[10] Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 210.

[11] ibid.

[12] Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 211.

[13] 1905 BYU Testimony of Mary Elizabeth Lightner, online 10 Mar 2014 at http://user.xmission.com/~plporter/lds/merlbyu.htm.

[14] Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 226.

[15] Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 213.