Polygamy book/Polyandry

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    Polyandry: Women married to more than one husband


Polyandry

Note: These are draft essays on LDS plural marriage. They are provided for the use of FairMormon and its readers. (C) 2007-2014 GL Smith. No other reproduction is authorized.

Questions


Nothing in plural marriage mystifies—or troubles—members of the Church more than Joseph's polyandrous sealings. Marriage to multiple wives may seem strange, but at least it intrudes on our historical awareness, while many remain unaware of polyandry's existence in LDS history.

To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here

Detailed Analysis

Introduction

Perhaps nothing is less understood than Joseph Smith's sealings to women already married, because the evidence supports conflicting interpretations.
—Kathryn M. Daynes[1]
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Important introductory material on plural marriage available here

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In my experience, nothing in plural marriage mystifies—or troubles—members of the Church more than Joseph's polyandrous sealings. Marriage to multiple wives may seem strange, but at least it intrudes on our historical awareness, while many remain unaware of polyandry's existence in LDS history. This variant of plural marriage does not seem to have been a feature of Utah polygamy under Brigham Young and his successors. To complicate the issue further, we understand little about how Joseph and his contemporaries saw these relationships. Mary Elizabeth Rollins seemed to recognize that later students of the period would not have the necessary information to understand her choices as a polyandrous wife: "[I] could explain some things in regard to my living with [my first husband] after becoming the Wife of Another [i.e., Joseph], which would throw light, on what now seems mysterious—and you would be perfectly satisfied with me. I write this; because I have heard that it had been commented on to my injury."[2]

Lacking such perfect satisfaction, we can still offer some tentative observations and conclusions.

The doctrine of sealing and adoption

Plural marriage was one means by which Joseph implemented the broader doctrine of sealing. Ultimately, his intent seems to have been to reunite the human family into a bonded whole. "Joseph did not marry women to form a warm, human companionship," observed Richard Bushman, "but to create a network of related wives, children, and kinsmen that would endure into the eternities."[3] Alma Allred agrees with Todd Compton that "[m]arriage, sealing and adoption, in fact, were nearly interchangeable concepts,"[4] for Joseph's followers, but criticizes Compton because this principle is "much too important to be relegated to, or lost in a footnote" when discussing Joseph's plural marriages.[5]

Sealing creates new, eternal families, and "[a]s each new family came into being, it became another link in the chain of families stretching back to Adam, who was linked to God. Thus the 'family of God' became more than metaphor."[6] It is but a short step from sealing existing families to extending that privilege outward. Since many, if not most, of the saints would have family outside the church, there was an understandable anxiety that they be included in the new, eternal family being forged by Joseph.

Later in Church history, this was accomplished by adoption, where faithful members would serve as surrogate parents in the divine order. This practice was not without its problems, as some surrogates began to look on their adoption of others as a route to glory and power, both spiritual and temporal, rather than as a service for the family of heaven.[7] Adoption by living non-relatives was eventually replaced by the present practice of sealing members to deceased ancestors, with the expectation that definitive resolution of such matters can await the millennial years.

This expanded understanding, however, was decades in the future. In Joseph's day, the necessity of sealing was clear, and most members did not anticipate having faithful family to whom they could be sealed. The Mormons' anticipation of an imminent end to the world may have heightened the sense of urgency.[8]

The role of sealing in marriages was clear—as we will see, Joseph may have extended the role of marriage to binding not just his partners, but their spouses and family as well, into the divine family.

Evaluating each polyandrous marriage

Because we know little or nothing about some of Joseph's marriages, some authors succumb to the temptation to treat evidence in one marriage as evidence for them all.[9] Each marriage, however, involved unique individuals and situations; we cannot turn them into carbon copies. For ease of discussion, however, we will divide the polyandrous marriages into three groups:

  1. Spouse is a non-member
  2. Spouse is a non-faithful LDS
  3. Spouse is faithful LDS
  4. Separated/divorced from their spouse at the time of their sealing to Joseph (i.e., pseudopolyandry)

Group 1: Women with non-member spouses

Ruth Vose Sayers

Three of Joseph's plural marriages involved women who were married to non-member spouses. Of one, Ruth Vose Sayers, we know very little. She married Edward Sayers in 1841, and they had no children. Her husband remained friendly to Joseph Smith, as far as we know, to the end of Joseph's life.[10] Brian Hales notes that Church Historian Andrew Jensen's documents "regarding Ruth Vose Sayers demonstrate that her marriage was for 'eternity only,' without conjugal relations on earth,"[11] pointing out that Jenson wrote of Sayer's non-believing husband:

[he] not attaching much important to \the/ theory of a future life insisted that his wife \Ruth/ should be sealed to the Prophet for eternity, as he himself should only claim her in this life. She \was/ accordingly the sealed to the Prophet in Emma Smith's presence and thus were became numbered among the Prophets plural wives. She however \though she/ \continued to live with Mr. Sayers/ remained with her husband\ until his death.[12]

Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner

Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner was among the earliest converts to the Church. She had married Adam Lightner on 11 August 1835.[13] Following the Haun's Mill massacre, Mary could have escaped General Clark's siege of Far West, since Governor Boggs had ordered the clandestine evacuation of his friend Adam Lightner and family prior to an anticipated assault on Far West. Mary, her husband, and sister-in-law refused the offer to leave, even though Clark insisted that all remaining men, women, and children "were to be destroyed."[14]

Later in life, Mary reported that at age twelve, Joseph Smith "told me [in 1831] about his great vision concerning me. He said I was the first woman God commanded him to take as a plural wife."[15] She also described how

God had Commanded him in July 1834 to take me for a Wife, but he had not dared to make it known to me, for when he received the Revelation; I was in Missouri and when he did see me, I was married. But he was again commanded, to fulfil the first revelation; or Suffer condemnation…[16]

Mary described how "[t]he Prophet Joseph tried hard to get Mr. Lightner to go into the water, but he said he did not feel worthy, but would, some other time. Joseph said to me that he never would be baptized, unless it was a few moments before he died."[17] Despite not being a member, Lightner was a loyal friend to the Saints and to Joseph, and died in Utah.

Of her sealing to Joseph, Mary wrote: "I could tell you why I stayed with Mr. Lightner. Things the leaders of the Church does not know anything about. I did just as Joseph told me to do, as he knew what troubles I would have to contend with.”[18]

Sarah Kingsley Howe Cleveland

There is considerable debate as to whether Sarah Kingsley was sealed to Joseph Smith.[19] Danel Bachman's pioneering study on plural marriage argued that there was "little supporting evidence for [her]…inclusion" on a list of Joseph's wives.[20] Todd Compton argues for Sarah's inclusion, since she is included on Andrew Jenson's list of plural wives, had a proxy marriage to Joseph Smith in the temple following the martyrdom, and because Eliza R. Snow is known to have been sealed to Joseph at Sarah's home. Compton holds—and I find his reasoning persuasive—that Joseph's decision to marry Eliza in front of Sarah makes little sense if Sarah had not already been introduced to plural marriage. (Though it must be admitted that Sarah could have been aware of plural marriage, but not practicing it.) Compton's argument is strengthened by the fact that Andrew Jenson also had access to Eliza R. Snow as a witness, so she could have confirmed Sarah's sealing.[21]

Sarah married John Cleveland, her second husband, on 10 June 1826, and she joined the Church in 1835. Her husband never joined the Church, but was a close friend of Joseph's. While Joseph was in Liberty Jail, Emma and her children were welcomed into the Cleveland's Quincy, Illinois home. Following his release in May 1839, Joseph rejoined his family and they remained in Sarah and John's home for three weeks.

While Joseph and most of the Church migrated to the Nauvoo region, the Clevelands remained in Illinois for a time. Though not a member, John continued to provide shelter and help to members of the Church who were victims of persecution. This aid given to the beleaguered Saints led to persecution against John and Sarah, and they eventually moved to Nauvoo.

Sarah served as a counselor to Emma Smith in the Nauvoo Relief Society, and at age 54 was probably sealed to Joseph Smith prior to Eliza R. Snow's marriage on 29 June 1842. It is not known if her husband knew of the sealing, but he remained friendly to Joseph and the Saints.[22]

When Brigham Young and the Saints made plans to move west, Sarah remained behind with her husband. Various explanations for this decision exist, but in one account says that:

Brigham Young and council…counciled her to stay with her Husband as he was a good man, having shown himself kind ever helping those in need, although for some reason his mind was darkened as to the Gospel. She obey[ed] the council and stayed with her Husband, and was faithfull and true to her religion and died a faithfull member of the Church…[23]

Observations about the first group

Though little is known of one woman, and it is debated whether another ought to be counted as a wife, these histories share some significant elements. All were faithful women who had sacrificed a great deal for the Church. All had a long association with Joseph Smith—he knew them and their families well. All were married to men who were good friends of Joseph's, and remained so until his death. We know little about Edward Sayers, but the other two husbands had made enormous sacrifices for the Saints. Both were willing to risk persecution and death for a religion of which they were not a part.

Given the importance which Joseph placed upon the sealing ordinances, it is not surprising that he wished to assure the salvation of such faithful women. We have only glimpses of Joseph's theology of sealing; it may even be that he hoped that by marrying/sealing these wives, their non-member husbands might also benefit from the blessings of sealing. Lightner and Cleveland were certainly two non-members whom Joseph and the Saints would have hoped to see saved with them.

Group 2: Women with non-faithful LDS spouses

Prescindia Lathrop Huntington Buell

Prescindia Lathrop Huntington Buell and her husband Norman joined the Church in 1836. By 1839, Norman had left the Church, and Prescindia noted that "the Lord gave me strength to Stand alone & keep the faith amid heavy persecution.”[24]

“[I]n 1841 I entered into the New Everlasting Covenant," said Prescindia, "[I] was sealed to Joseph Smith the Prophet and Seer, and to the best of my ability I have honored plural marriage, never speaking one word against the principle… Never in my life, in this kingdom, which is 44 years, have I doubted the truth of this great work.”[25] Her motivation for the sealing to Joseph is alluded to by Emeline B. Wells:

She knew Joseph to be a man of God, and she had received many manifestations in proof of this, and consequently when he explained to her clearly the knowledge which he had obtained from the Lord, she accepted the sealing ordinance with Joseph as a sacred and holy confirmation.[26]

Two of Prescinda's children have been suggested as potential children by Joseph, though DNA evidence has ruled one child out, and the claim for the other is extremely shaky (see here).

Observations about the second group

According to Emeline, this sealing served as a "holy confirmation," a completion or capstone on a life of faithfulness. As with the wives having non-member spouses, Prescindia's acceptance of sealing seems motivated by a desire to bind her into the family of faithful Saints, destined for exaltation even if her first husband did not continue faithful.

Group 3: Women with faithful LDS spouses

Six (or five, if one doubtful wife is excluded) of Joseph's polyandrous marriages were to women married to faithful LDS men.

Esther Dutcher

Daniel H. Wells wrote to Joseph F. Smith of a sealing between Joseph and Esther Dutcher. Wells' source of information was Dutcher's husband, Albert Smith (no relation to Joseph):

It seems that she was sealed to Joseph the Prophet in the days of Nauvoo, though she still remained his wife, and afterwards nearly broke his heart by telling him of it, and expressing her intention of adhering to that relationship. He however got to feeling better over it, and acting for Joseph, had her sealed to him [in the temple--all of Joseph's marriages were understood to require resealing in the temple once it was completed], and to himself for time.[27]

Patty Bartlett Sessions

Sylvia Session's mother Patty joined the Church in 1833, and was sealed to Joseph Smith on 9 March 1842. The reaction of her husband David is unknown, but he remained a faithful member and diligent missionary. He later married a plural wife, which caused difficulties in their marriage.[28]

Marinda Nancy Johnson Hyde

Nancy married future apostle Orson Hyde on 4 September 1834. He was involved briefly with apostasy at Far West in the fall of 1838, but had returned to the Church by March 1839 following a dramatic vision in which he saw the consequence of continued rebellion.[29]

Marinda was sealed to Joseph in April 1842, while Orson was on a mission. Only antagonistic accounts of this sealing exist.[30] Of the four reports, two claim that Orson was aware of the sealing, and two claim that he was not.

Author Date Claim Comments
Sidney Rigdon[31] 1845
  • Orson unaware of marriage
  • Orson refused to live with wife when he found out

Contrary to claim, Orson continued to live with Miranda and father children by her.

William Hall[32] 1852
  • Joseph demanded Miranda and all Orson's money to let him back in the Church
  • "Many jokes were cracked at his [Hyde's] expense."

Very unlikely—no record of others mocking Hyde; Hall is unreliable on other marriages as well.[33] Orson's return to the quorum was in June 1839,[34] putting Hall's account two years too early for marriage.[35]

Ann Eliza Young[36] 1876
  • Orson did not know of marriage
  • Angry when he learned of it
  • Swore would not live with his wife; did so anyway.

Too young to have any first-hand knowledge of Nauvoo, her book's intent was clearly to titillate with stories of polygamous intrigue. Claims that Brigham told Orson that she was only to be his wife for time, and Joseph's for eternity—but this is frankly false, since sealed to Orson in early 1846.[37] She also confuses the temporality, since she describes Hyde "in a furious passion," because "he thought it no harm for him to win the affection of another man's wife… but he did not propose having his rights interfered with even by the holy Prophet whose teachings he so implicitly followed" (326). Yet, Orson did not begin practicing plural marriage until after he knew of Miranda's sealing to Joseph.

John D. Lee[38] 1877
  • "Report said that Hyde's wife, with his consent, was sealed to Joseph for an eternal state, but I do not assert the fact."
Lee's work was published posthumously and may have been altered by anti-Mormon editor.[39]

Unique to the Hyde's marriage is the fact that Marinda was sealed to Orson following Joseph's death. All of the Prophet's other polyandrous wives were posthumously sealed to Joseph by proxy.[40]

The Hydes were to divorce in 1870: "The precise reasons for the divorce are not known, but it appears that Orson was giving most of his attention to his younger wives at this time."[41]

Two of Marinda's children have been suggested as potential children by Joseph, but this is very unlikely (see here).

Elvira Annie Cowles Holmes

Elvira was married to Joseph at age twenty-nine. Her husband, Jonathan Holmes, was a pall-bearer at Joseph Smith's funeral. As Todd Compton remarks

Though it is impossible to know for certain, the fact that Holmes was so close to Joseph Smith suggests that he knew of Smith’s marriage to his wife and permitted it…He later stood as proxy for Smith as Elvira married the prophet for eternity in the Nauvoo temple…This ‘first husband’ never wavered in his loyalty to the Mormon leader….[42]

Elizabeth Davis Goldsmith Brackenbury Durfee

The inclusion of "Mrs. Durfee," as she was known, on the list of Joseph's wives is strongly contested among historians. Durfee is not found on Andrew Jenson's list of Joseph's plural wives. Todd Compton argues that Durfee's post-martyrdom proxy sealing to Joseph is evidence of a living marriage, as is the fact that she taught plural marriage to other prospective wives. Compton also holds that two hostile sources (John C. Bennett and Sarah Pratt) confirm Durfee as a plural wife.[43]

Danel Bachman's 1975 thesis does not include Durfee,[44] and her inclusion is contested by Anderson and Faulring, who question Compton's interpretation of the Sarah Pratt evidence:

…assuming Sarah Pratt is accurately quoted, we are still in doubt about where she obtained her information. In Sacred Loneliness misleads the reader by claiming that "Sarah Pratt mentions that she heard a Mrs. Durfee in Salt Lake City profess to have been one of Smith's wives" (p. 260). But this changes the actual report of Sarah's comments on Mrs. Durfee: "I don't think she was ever sealed to him, though it may have been the case after Joseph's death. . . At all events, she boasted here in Salt Lake of having been one of Joseph's wives" (p. 701).[45]

I am inclined to agree that Sarah's statement argues against a marriage. I also find it strange that Andrew Jenson did not list her if she was a plural spouse. If, as in the case of Sarah Kingsley (see above) I side with Compton in agreeing that Eliza R. Snow could have confirmed Sarah's marriage for Jenson's list, then it strikes me as inconsistent to then assume that Eliza would not have likewise confirmed Mrs. Durfee's marriage for Jenson's list. Compton himself notes that Eliza and Durfee were close friends, and Jenson certainly had access to Eliza as a witness.[46] There seems to me to be little doubt that Mrs. Durfee was associated with plural marriage, but I think her status as a wife during Joseph's lifetime dubious.

The only thing about which we can be certain is that Mrs. Durfee was sealed to Joseph by proxy after the martyrdom. Her LDS husband stood as proxy to Joseph. Their relationship seems to have been strained by this time—they were soon to divorce and each remarried.[47]

Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs

In 1839, at age 18, Zina arrived with her parents in Nauvoo after being driven out of Missouri. Faithful LDS missionary Henry Jacobs courted her during 1840–41. At the same time, Joseph Smith had taught Zina the doctrine of plural marriage, and thrice asked her to marry him. She declined each time, and she and Henry were wed 7 March 1841.[48]

Zina and Henry were married by John C. Bennett, then mayor of Nauvoo. They had invited Joseph to perform the ceremony, but Bennett stepped in when Joseph did not arrive: …Zina asked the Prophet to perform the marriage. They went to the Clerk’s office and the Prophet did not arrive, so they were married by John C. Bennett. When they saw Joseph they asked him why he didn’t come, and he told them the Lord had made it known to him that she was to be his Celestial wife.[49] Family tradition holds, then, that Zina and Henry were aware of Joseph's plural marriage teachings and his proposal to Zina. While this perspective is late and after-the-fact, it is consistent with the Jacobs' behaviour thereafter. Zina's family also wrote that Henry believed that "whatever the Prophet did was right, without making the wisdom of God's authorities bend to the reasoning of any man."[50]

On 27 October 1841, Zina was sealed to Joseph Smith by her brother, Dimick Huntington. She was six months pregnant by Henry, and continued to live with him.

Joseph Smith and Brigham Young's "mistreatment" of Henry and their "theft" of his family have received a great deal of publicity, thanks to late 19th century anti-Mormon sources, and Fawn Brodie increased their cachet for a 20th century audience. These charges are examined in detail (here). For present purposes, we will focus on Zina. She had refused Joseph's suit three times, and chosen to marry Henry. Why did she decide to be sealed to Joseph?

When interrogated by a member of the RLDS Church, Zina refused to be drawn into specifics. She made her motivations clear, and explained that God had prepared her mind for Joseph's teachings even before she had heard them:

Q. "Can you give us the date of that marriage with Joseph Smith?"
A. "No, sir, I could not."
Q. "Not even the year?"
A. "No, I do not remember. It was something too sacred to be talked about; it was more to me than life or death. I never breathed it for years. I will tell you the facts. I had dreams—I am no dreamer but I had dreams that I could not account for. I know this is the work of the Lord; it was revealed to me, even when young. Things were presented to my mind that I could not account for. When Joseph Smith revealed this order [Celestial marriage] I knew what it meant; the Lord was preparing my mind to receive it."[51]

Zina herself clearly explains the basis for her choice:

…when I heard that God had revealed the law of Celestial marriage that we would have the privilege of associating in family relationships in the worlds to come, I searched the scriptures and by humble prayer to my Heavenly Father I obtained a testimony for myself that God had required that order to be established in his Church.[52]

Faced with questions from her RLDS interviewer that she felt exceeded propriety, Zina became evasive. She finally terminated the interview by saying, "Mr. Wight, you are speaking on the most sacred experiences of my life…."[53]

Henry was to stand as proxy for Zina's post-martyrdom sealing to Joseph, and her sealing for time to Brigham Young. He and Zina separated soon thereafter, and Henry was soon gone on one of his many missions for the Church. (See here for a more in-depth analysis of attacks on Brigham and Joseph regarding Zina and Henry.)

Observations about the third group

In Henry Jacob's and Albert Smith's cases, we have the clearest evidence of husbands of polyandrous wives who knew about Joseph's sealing to his spouse. Henry remained a devout member of the Church, continued to serve as a missionary, and stood proxy for Zina's sealing to Joseph. Albert Smith was initially troubled, but later felt better about the arrangement, and stood proxy for Joseph in ratifying the sealing after Joseph's death.

The faithful husbands of Joseph's other polyandrous wives likewise give no sign that they were troubled by the marriages—if they were aware of them. It is notable, however, that Joseph seemed to have a particularly close bond with these husbands, and there is no evidence that such bonds were threatened by the polyandry.

Group 4: Women likely separated/divorced from their first husbands (i.e., pseudopolyandry)

Two cases may represent women who did not consider themselves still married to their first husband.

Sylvia Sessions Lyon

Sylvia Sessions married Windsor Lyon on 21 April 1838. Joseph Smith performed the ceremony. She was sealed to Joseph Smith on 8 February 1842. Her husband Windsor's reaction is not recorded, but he was a faithful, active member of the Church at the time.

Windsor was excommunicated on 7 November 1842 because he sued stake president William Marks for repayment of a loan (Church members frowned on using secular courts to settle disputes between themselves).[54] Despite his excommunication, Windsor remained on close terms with Joseph; tradition holds that he was "a true friend of the Prophet Joseph Smith."

Sylvia gave birth to a daughter, Josephine, on 8 February 1844, and there is evidence that Joseph was the father (see here). Regardless, Windsor Lyon remained a close friend and ally of Joseph's—he was called as a witness at the trial of Joseph and Hyrum's assassins.

Brian Hales has recently published work demonstrating that Todd Compton likely worked with incomplete data on Session's first marriage. In Hales' view, Sessions considered herself divorced from her husband, and Joseph is the only viable father for her child. If so, Sessions' marriage to Joseph was not polyandrous, and the evidence for Josephine Lyons being Joseph's child is even stronger.[55]

Windsor was rebaptized on 18 January 1846, and Sylvia was sealed to Joseph by proxy with her husband's permission. She was then sealed to Heber Kimball for time, though she continued to cohabitate with Windsor, who also took a plural wife.[56]

Mary Heron Snider

Mary Heron Snider's husband John died active and faithful in the Church. Further, he served a mission in England and was the first Mormon to preach there, served on the committee building the Nauvoo House, was appointed a "bodyguard" for Joseph's body following the martyrdom at Carthage.[57] There is a one-sentence claim of sexual relations between her and Joseph by a son-in-law, Joseph E. Johnson.[58] Mary and her husband "seem to have endured significant periods of estrangement after 1833, with no pregnancies after Mary turned twenty nine. Also, the couple's marriage was never sealed, though the option was available....without addition[al] documentation, reliable conclusions are unattainable."[59] It may be that Snider's marriage to Joseph parallels the case of Sylvia Sessions Lyon, who was likely separated from her first husband prior to her plural marriage to Joseph.

See also



  • Divorce in the 19th century
    Brief Summary: Some members of the Church remarried without obtaining a formal legal divorce. Critics of the Church try to make this seem dishonest and adulterous, when it was in fact the norm for the period, especially on the frontier and among the poor. Critics are not honest about the legal realities faced by nineteenth century Americans. (Click here for full article)
    ∗       ∗       ∗
  • Remarrying without civil divorce
    Brief Summary: Some critics like to emphasize that some LDS members did not receive civil divorces before remarrying—either monogamously or polygamously. They either state or imply that this shows the Saints' cavalier attitude toward the law. (Click here for full article)
    ∗       ∗       ∗
  • Illegal marriages in Ohio?
    Brief Summary: Critics charge that Joseph Smith performed monogamous marriages for time of already-married members, violating Ohio law in Kirtland. Such claims are false and represent a misunderstanding about the marriage and divorce law of the day. (Click here for full article)
    ∗       ∗       ∗


A hypothesis—why so many early polyandrous marriages?

Joseph's polyandry strikes us as a strange practice, but few have noted some of the strangest elements. Interestingly, after Joseph's resumption of plural marriage in April 1841, all of his marriages (with one exception) were polyandrous until 29 June 1842. The lone exception is the marriage to his dead brother's widow. Furthermore, of his eleven polyandrous marriages, all but two occurred before July 1843.

This early prominence, even predominance, of polyandry is counter-intuitive. Polyandrous marriages would seem to be the most risky for Joseph and his wives. With polyandry, Emma's reaction to the marriages would be the least of Joseph's worries. Unlike being sealed to single women, polyandrous sealings introduced an additional dangerous variable: the first husband! In teaching and practicing polyandry, Joseph ran the significant risk of a jealous husband learning of his arrangement with the wife, and exposing the explosive secret in hostile terms. Such a husband might also choose to threaten Joseph physically for wrongs to his wife's—and his own—honor.

The risk to Joseph is heightened when we appreciate that a single woman had no competing loyalties, while a polyandrous wife almost always had children and a husband to whom she was bound by love and loyalty. Finally, since a key justification for Mormon polygamy was the biblical model, polyandry would also have been the most difficult form to justify to potential initiates, since there is no biblical polyandry.

Yet when we examine Joseph's polyandrous marriages, none of these problems seem to surface. All of the men—member or non-member—were close friends of Joseph's, and remained so until his death. No wife seems to have second thoughts; none tearfully confessed all to her unsuspecting husband or Nauvoo society.

This common-sense analysis hinges, however, on the question of marital intimacy. If polyandrous sealings were not expected to involve sexual intimacy, then they were much less challenging for all involved—including Joseph and Emma. Emma would be far less troubled by a polyandrous marriage intended to seal Joseph to beloved friends than a marriage to single women living in her home. Joseph's natural—and, I suspect, profound—desire to keep the Lord's commandments and protect Emma's feelings would have been satisfied.

If the first husband was aware of the sealings, the faithful Saints would have been untroubled by a relationship which they saw as primarily binding their family to Joseph's, while non-member husbands would have seen it as a purely religious rite with a man for whom they retained great respect and affection.

Could faithful members save the unfaithful or unbaptized?

A skeptical reader might, at this point, suspect that I am over-reaching for an explanation. There is evidence, however, that early Mormons firmly believed that a faithful spouse could help exalt a wayward or non-member spouse.

Twenty-one-year-old Isaiah Moses Coombs immigrated to Utah in 1855. To his grief, his childhood sweetheart refused to accompany him, despite their marriage the year before. Reflecting on the agonizing decision to go west without his non-member spouse, Coombs wrote:

…not least was the consideration that I was obeying the voice of God and that I was taking a course that would secure my own glory and exaltation and that would eventually either in this life or that which is to come enable me to bind my wife to me in bands that could not be broken. She was blind then but the day would come when she would see.[60]

Coombs' wife was never to join the Church, and refused a later entreaty to return with him to Utah. Yet, he persisted in the conviction that his faithfulness to the sealing covenant would suffice to exalt his disbelieving, non-member wife in the hereafter, even if she did not accept the gospel in mortality.

This example from my own great-great-great grandfather is instructive, and strikes me as the more significant because his account was not written for public consumption. He had no polemic purpose, save to tell his life's story.

He was also not a "prominent" member of the Church—his reflections demonstrate how one rank-and-file member, living apart from the main body of saints because of poverty, understood matters in the early 1850s. Coombs' journal makes it wrenchingly clear that his decision to leave was extraordinarily difficult—if a relatively unknown young man, moving outside the hub of Church power in Nauvoo and Utah was thus convinced, it seems likely that other early members also saw their own engagement in sealing as sufficient to help save faithful, wayward, or non-member spouses.

Further evidence against sexual polyandry

Nauvoo witnesses did not try to justify sexual polyandry

Brian Hales notes that none of the members at Nauvoo attempted to justify sexual polyandry:

Belinda Marden Pratt, a plural wife of Parley P. Pratt, wrote in 1854: "'Why not a plurality of husbands as well as a plurality of wives?' To which I reply: 1st God has never commanded or sanctioned a plurality of husbands." On October 8, 1869, Apostle George A. Smith taught that "a plurality of husbands is wrong." His wife, Bathsheba Smith, was asked in 1892 if it would "be a violation of the laws of the church for one woman to have two husbands living at the same time." She replied, "I think it would." All of these individuals were involved with Nauvoo polygamy, and several were undoubtedly aware of Joseph Smith's sealings to legally married women, yet they made no effort to condone sexual polyandry, nor is there any evidence that any man but Joseph Smith engaged in polyandry in Nauvoo.[61]

Nauvoo detractors likewise say nothing about sexual polyandry

Hales remarks:

A fourth group of polygamy insiders who may have left a record is comprised of the detractors. William Law, though a member of Joseph Smith's First Presidency, denounced plural marriage and accused Joseph Smith of adultery....In his split with Joseph Smith in the spring of 1844, the fat that Law did not accuse the Prophet of sexual polyandry and never mentioned it so far as available documents indicate, is surprising. Polyandrous sexuality would have been more shocking that adultery at that time and place. So the absence of any reference to it suggests that Law was unaware of conjugality in those unions or purposefully chose to ignore them altogether. In the end, Law settled for a less explosive charge of adultery.[62]

Hales also points out that John C. Bennett likewise did not invoke polyandry in his charges against Joseph:

Even more impressive is the fact th[at] John C. Bennett, who claimed knowledge of seven of Joseph Smith's plural marriages to civily married women and even identified three by name...did not accuse the Prophet of sexual polyandry. He reported polyandrous marriages without distinguishing them from nonpolyandrous polygamous unions and without recruiting the presumably offended husbands to joint his crusade against Joseph....
Bennett and Francis [Higbee] together named more than a dozen persons who they thought were likely candidates to join in denunciations of Joseph Smith's improprieties; but none of these individuals were polyandrous husbands (who, logically speaking, would have been prime candidates to protect their family's honor) nor did they mention sexual polyandry as one of Joseph's alleged numerous misdeeds.
If any of Joseph Smith's opponents had suspected the presence of sexual polyandry, their silence on the subject is puzzling. The standard of frontier justice regarding a sexually molested woman generally allowed a father, husband, brother, or son to exact revenge by beating, horsewhipping, or even killing the perpetrator.[63]

Evidence from the "Temple Lot" case of non-consummation of polyandrous marriages

Hales has identified a further line of evidence which suggests that polyandrous marriages were not consummated. In 1892, the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS, now Community of Christ) brought suit against the Hendrickite, or "Temple Lot" break-off group. They claimed that the Independence, Missouri temple site was rightfully RLDS property, since they were the direct heirs of Joseph Smith's original religious group.

Although not embracing plural marriage themselves, the Temple Lot group was anxious to demonstrate that Joseph Smith had taught plural marriage--for, if this was so, then the RLDS (who denied that Joseph had practiced it, and certainly did not embrace the doctrine) would have difficulty proving that they were the direct successors to the church founded by Joseph.

Hales reports:

Nine of Joseph Smith's plural wives were still living when depositions started at Salt Lake City on March 14, 1892. Three were polyandrous wives (Zina Huntington Jacobs Young, Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner, and Patty Bartlett Sessions) and six were nonpolyandrous (Helen Mar Kimball, Martha McBride, Almera Johnson, Emily Partridge, Malissa Lott, and Lucy Walker.) Factors evidently affecting the choice of witnesses involved the health and travel distances for the women, and importantly, whether their polygamous marriages to the Prophet included conjugality. Non-sexual sealings would have been treated as spiritual marriages of little importance and would have played right into the hands of RLDS attorneys....
All three of Joseph Smith's polyandrous wives lived in or relatively near Salt Lake City and were apparently willing to testify but were bypassed. General Relief Society President Zina D. Huntington was in good health, living only a few blocks from the deposition room. Yet she was not summoned. Likewise, polyandrous wife Mary Elizabeth Rollins was well known to Church leaders and resided in Ogden, thirty-eight miles north of Salt Lake City. She was not requested to appear, not was Patty Bartlett Sessions, who lived in Bountiful ten miles north of Salt Lake City. Patty was ninety-seven, probably a sufficient reason to pass her by....
Among nonpolyandrous wives who were not summoned was Martha McBride who lived in Hooper, Utah (thirty-seven miles to the north). McBride's relationship with Joseph Smith is poorly documented, with no evidence of sexual relations....Also passed by was Salt Lake resident Helen Mar Kimball who had written two books defending the practice of plural marriage. Her sealing to the Prophet ocurred when she was only fourteen and the presence or absence of sexual relations in her plural marriage is debated by historians.
Throughout the length question-and-answer sessions with Malissa Lott, Emily Partridge, and Lucy Walker, the details of their polygamous marriages with Joseph Smith were paramount; the physical aspect of sexuality was a core issue. If Zina and/or Mary Elizabeth could not testify to such relations, their testimonies as the Prophet's polygamous wives could hurt the Church of Christ (Temple Lot) cause.[64]

Would polyandrous testimony have been harmful to the Church, and so avoided?

Hales goes on to note that there is another possible explanation for the absence of polyandrous wives from the Temple Lot testimony:

...it might be reasoned that they avoided testifying because their answers might have revealed polyandrous sexuality, which would have been embarrassing and doctrinally problematic.
This second option seems less likely because, six years later, Zina willingly engaged in a formal interview (later published) with an RLDS elder, John Wight, who at one point asked: 'Then it is a fact, Mrs. Young ,is it not, that you married Mr. Smith at the same time you were married to Mr. Jacobs?" to which Zina immediately responded: "What right do you have to ask such questions? I was sealed to Joseph Smith for eternity." Zina's willingness to be interviewed by an RLDS inquisitor in 1898 suggests she would have been equally willing to face RLDS attorneys in 1892. However, her 1898 responses would not have been helpful to the Church of Christ (Temple Lot) at that time, had she been asked to testify.
Similarly, in 1905, Mary Elizabeth spoke freely to missionaries at BYU and even answered a direct question "concerning her husband [Adam Lightner]." She explained: "My husband did not belong to the Church. I begged and pled with him to join but he would not. He said he did not believe in it though he thought a great deal of Joseph. He sacrificed his property rather than testify against Joseph, Hyrum, and Geo. A. Smith. After he said this I went forward and was sealed to Joseph for Eternity." In other words, she, like Zina, explained that she was "sealed to Joseph for Eternity." This testimony, which stopped short of sexual relations, would not have strengthened the Temple Lot Church's case.
In their responses, both women spoke of their polyandrous relationships with Joseph Smith without any hint of sexual polyandry or the need to justify and defend it. Also, documents indicate that if Church leaders in 1892 were worried about hiding Joseph Smith's polyandrous marriages (because of sexuality or other concerns), it would have been the first time such anxieties are identifiable in the historical record. [Neither Joseph F. Smith affidavits from 1869 or Andrew Jenson's notes from 1887] seemed to treat polyandrous plural marriages as problematic.[65]

Answer


I thus wonder if Joseph's first polyandrous sealings were undertaken to protect his relationship with Emma, while still fulfilling the angel's command to implement plurality. Did he hope that the "less difficult" polyandrous and levirate marriages would satisfy the commandment? Or, at the very least, were the polyandrous marriages intended to prepare both Emma and the Saints for the numerous, more difficult "single woman" plural marriages that would follow?

Such a reconstruction must remain speculative, especially since very little is known about the polyandrous marriages. It would, however, explain why Joseph chose to enter the "most difficult" or "most risky" marriages first—they would have been, contrary to what we might first expect, the easiest.

This is not to argue, I hasten to add, that such marriages must not or could not involve sexuality. I believe they were legitimate marriages, and as such could easily accommodate righteous marital relations. I find, though, that assuming full sexuality in these relationships makes less sense of the available data.[66]

Is it reasonable to think that Nauvoo plural marriages had different levels of "sexual access"? Modern readers are inclined to think of marriage as mostly—or entirely—about cohabitation, but it is not clear that the early Saints saw things in this way.

For example, Utah-era polygamy had a wide range of marriage types, each of which entailed different responsibilities and degrees of sexual access. Kathryn Daynes has noted the following varieties of LDS marriages:[55]

  • Civil marriages (for time only)
  • Marriage for time and eternity
  • Marriage for eternity only (no sexual access)
  • Marriage for time only (i.e., by proxy)
  • Marriages of young children (no cohabitation was permitted until the partners were older; such marriages were often never consummated, and were later cancelled when one of the partners chose to marry a different love match).
  • "Convenience only" marriages: these unusual arrangements allowed for childless couples to conceive in an era which lacked assisted reproductive technology. Under prophetic approval, the couple would choose a fellow member to marry the childless wife following their own divorce. The new husband would impregnate the spouse, receive a divorce from her, and the childless couple would remarry and raise the child as their own. The "donor" husband had no on-going rights of sexual access or duties to support the wife or child.

It is clear, then, that later polygamy easily contemplated relationships which did not involve sexual access. If Joseph had implemented such variation in Nauvoo, then Brigham Young's later decision to endorse a variety of marriage forms is even more understandable.

The most important evidence against my hypothesis would be children born from polyandrous marriages, or clear evidence of sexual relations in such marriages. Most important is the case of Josephine Lyon, who may be the best candidate for being a polyandrous child. In an effort to further assess my hypothesis regarding polyandry, and to expand our understanding of Nauvoo plurality generally, we will examine the evidence for sexuality and children in Joseph's plural marriages in the following chapter. (On-line here.)

See also Brian Hales' discussion: Joseph Smith and Polyandry: FAQ

Notes

  1. Kathryn M. Daynes, More Wives Than One : Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System, 1840-1910 (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2001), 29.
  2. Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner, Letter to John A. Young (1892); cited in Richard S. Van Wagoner, "Joseph and Marriage," Sunstone 10/ 9 (Issue #32 / January 1986): 32; also cited in Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy, 43; Richard S. Van Wagoner, "Mormon Polyandry in Nauvoo," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 18/ 3 (Fall 1985): 77. (Need more citation info here [citation needed]).
  3. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 440.
  4. Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 637. ( Index of claims )
  5. Alma Allred, "Review of Todd Compton's In Sacred Loneliness," (6 December 1999) (no pages).
  6. Gordon Irving, "The Law of Adoption: One Phase of the Development of the Mormon Concept of Salvation, 1830–1900," Brigham Young University Studies 14 no. 3 (Spring 1974), 294.
  7. Irving, "The Law of Adoption," 299–304.
  8. Alma Allred, "Review of Todd Compton's In Sacred Loneliness," (6 December 1999) (no pages).
  9. See Richard Lloyd Anderson and Scott H. Faulring, "The Prophet Joseph Smith and His Plural Wives (Review of In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith)," FARMS Review of Books 10/2 (1998), 83–84. [67–104] They criticize Compton's In Sacred Loneliness on these grounds.
  10. Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 383.
  11. Brian C. Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy Volume 2: History (Salt Lake City, Utah: Greg Kofford Books, 2013), 362.
  12. Brian C. Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy Volume 1: History (Salt Lake City, Utah: Greg Kofford Books, 2013), 423.
  13. Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner, Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine (July 1926): 197.
  14. Lightner, 198–199.
  15. Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner to Emeline B. Wells, summer 1905, LDS Archives; cited by Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, 2nd edition, (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 65.
  16. Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner, Autobiography, Susa Young Gates Collection, UHI, 18–22, 24–24-25; cited B. Carmon Hardy (editor), Doing the Works of Abraham: Mormon Polygamy, Its origin, practice and demise, Vol. 9 of Kingdom in the West Series: The Mormons and the American Frontier (series editor Will Bagley), (Norman, Oklahoma: The Arthur H. Clark Company, 2007), 47. ISBN 0870623443. ISBN 978-0870623448.
  17. Lightner: 202–203.
  18. Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner, Letter to Emeline B. Wells (1880); cited in Richard S. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989), 43. ; Van Wagoner, "Mormon Polyandry in Nauvoo," 77; Van Wagoner, "Joseph and Marriage," 32.
  19. Anderson and Faulring, "The Prophet Joseph Smith and His Plural Wives, 76. They argue against her inclusion.
  20. Danel W. Bachman, “A Study of the Mormon Practice of Polygamy Before the Death of Joseph Smith,” (1975) (unpublished M.A. thesis, Purdue University), 108.
  21. Todd M. Compton, "Truth, Honesty and Moderation in Mormon History: A Response to Anderson, Faulring and Bachman’s Reviews of in Sacred Loneliness," (July 2001).
  22. Biographical information from Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 273–283.
  23. [citation needed]; cited in Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 283.
  24. [citation needed]; cited in Van Wagoner, "Mormon Polyandry in Nauvoo," 78; Van Wagoner, "Joseph and Marriage," 32.
  25. [citation needed]; cited in George D. Smith, "Nauvoo Roots of Mormon Polygamy, 1841–46: A Preliminary Demographic Report," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 27/ 1 (Spring 1994): 21; Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 122.
  26. Emeline B. Wells (Need more citation info here).; cited in Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 122.
  27. Daniel H. Wells, Letter to Joseph F. Smith, 25 June 1888; cited in Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy Vol. 1, 424.
  28. Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 174–187.
  29. Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 234.
  30. Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 238–239.
  31. J. GI SON DIVINE [Sidney Rigdon], "To the Sisters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints," Latter Day Saint's Messenger and Advocate (Pittsburgh) 1/10 (15 March 1845): 154–158.
  32. William Hall, Abominations of Mormonism Exposed; Containing Many Facts and Doctrines Concerning That Singular People, During Seven Year's Membership with Them; from 1840 to 1847 (Cincinnati: I. Hart, 1852), 113.
  33. Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 239.
  34. See History of the Church, 3:345. Volume 3 link Brigham H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1965), 2:24–25n12. GospeLink (requires subscrip.) Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 9 vols., ed., Scott G. Kenny (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1985), 1:340 (journal entry dated 25 June 1839). ISBN 0941214133.
  35. See Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 238.
  36. Ann Eliza Young, Wife No. 19, or the Story of a Life in Bondage, Being a Complete Exposé of Mormonism, and Revealing the Sorrows, Sacrifices and Sufferings of Women in Polygamy (Hartford, Conn.: Custin, Gilman & Company, 1876), 324–326.
  37. Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 243.: "Marinda was sealed to Orson Hyde, not Smith, for time and eternity on January 11, 1846."
  38. John D. Lee, Mormonism Unveiled; or, the Life and Confessions of the Late Mormon Bishop, John D. Lee; (Written by Himself) Embracing the History of Mormonism ... With an Exposition of the Secret History, Signs, Symbols and Crimes of the Mormon Church. Also the True History of the Horrible Butchery Known as the Mountain Meadows Massacre (St. Louis: Bryan, Brand, 1877), 147.
  39. Need more citation info here [citation needed]
  40. Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 240–242.
  41. Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 230–243.
  42. Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 249.
  43. Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 548.
  44. Compton, "Truth, Honesty and Moderation," (July 2001).
  45. See Danel W. Bachman, “A Study of the Mormon Practice of Polygamy Before the Death of Joseph Smith,” (1975) (unpublished M.A. thesis, Purdue University), 113–115.
  46. Anderson and Faulring, "The Prophet Joseph Smith and His Plural Wives (Review of In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith)," [citation needed]
  47. Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 262.
  48. Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 263–264.
  49. Allen L. Wyatt, "Zina and Her Men: An Examination of the Changing Marital State of Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs Smith Young," in FAIR Conference (Salt Lake City, Utah: FAIR, 1st draft, 2006). I have a first draft of Wyatt’s paper that contains additional quotes and references, for which I am grateful.
  50. Oa J. Cannon, "History of Henry Bailey Jacobs," (L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University, n.d.), 1; cited by Wyatt, "Zina and Her Men: An Examination of the Changing Marital State of Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs Smith Young," (emphasis added). See also Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy, 44; Van Wagoner, "Mormon Polyandry in Nauvoo," 78; Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 80.
  51. Cannon, "History of Henry Bailey Jacobs," 5; cited in Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy, 44.
  52. Interview of John Wight [RLDS] with Zina D.H. Young, October 1, 1898, "Evidence from Zina D. Huntington-Young," Saints’ Herald, 52 (11 January 1905), 29; cited in Wyatt, "Zina and Her Men: An Examination of the Changing Marital State of Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs Smith Young."
  53. Autobiography of Zina D. Young, no date, part of the Zina Card Brown Family Collection (1806-1972), LDS Church Archives, MS 4780, box 2, folder 17, cited by Wyatt, "Zina and Her Men: An Examination of the Changing Marital State of Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs Smith Young,"; John Wight with Zina D.H. Young, 1 October 1898, “Evidence from Zina D. Huntington-Young,” Saints Herald, 52 (11 January 1905): 28
  54. Todd Compton calls this a "church taboo…especially [with] cases involving highly visible leaders such as a stake president" (180). Compton leaves unmentioned that a caution against using non-believers' courts to settle differences between Christians goes back at least to the Pauline epistles (see 1 Corinthians 6:1–8).
  55. Brian C. Hales, "The Joseph Smith-Sylvia Sessions Plural Sealing: Polyandry or Polygyny?" Mormon Historical Studies 9/1 (Spring 2008), 41–57. [41–57] See also Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy Vol. 1, 349–376..
  56. Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 177–186.
  57. Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy Vol. 1, 464 467.
  58. Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy Vol. 1, 464,472.
  59. Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy Vol. 1, 464,473.
  60. Kate B. Carter, ed., Isaiah M[oses] Coombs from His Diary and Journal (Salt Lake City, Utah: published by Daughters of Utah Pioneers through Utah Printing Company, n.d.), 339, italics added.
  61. Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy Vol. 1, 393.
  62. Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy Vol. 1, 396–397.
  63. Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy Vol. 1, 397–398.
  64. Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy Vol. 1, 404–405.
  65. Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy Vol. 1, 405–406.
  66. Brian C. Hales has taken this stance strongly. See: Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy Vol. 1, 303–474. He responds to the most extensive attempt to argue otherwise in Brain C. Hales, "A Response to D. Michael Quinn's 'The Evidence for the Sexual Side of Joseph Smith's Polygamy'," (25 August 2012).

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