One of the women in my family tree is Aidah Clements, a New York convert whose testimony is often cited as one of the sources for the idea that Emma Smith pushed Eliza R. Snow, one of her husband’s wives down the stairs. Aidah’s relationship to the Smith family has always fascinated me. Aidah participated in many important events in Mormon history. She was a part of Zion’s Camp, immigrated with some of the companies to travel to the Salt Lake Valley, and watched as her two daughters married the same man.
I was recently searching for more documents about Aidah Clements when I came across some documents in the Church History Library that provided some interesting information about her marital history. Aidah was married to Albert Clements, whom she had met in upstate New York. They had married in 1820, a full twelve years before they converted to Mormonism. According to family lore and a fictionalized history of their lives published in the Relief Society Magazine, the two divorced after Joseph Smith’s death. Aidah, convinced of Brigham Young’s claims to succession, followed the Saints to Utah, while Albert became a Rigdonite. They were later reunited when Albert came to Utah and joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
What I didn’t realize about their relationship was how tumultuous it was. The stories that were contained in the Church History Library are related to Aidah’s charges that Albert had beaten her. The following is one of the documents describing their relationship:
State of Illinois
City of Nauvoo
Personally appeared before me Joseph Smith Mayor, and Justice of the Peace in and for said City. Adah Clements who being duly swon according to law, deposeth and Smith, that on the seventeenth day of December A.D. 1842, an assault and battery was committed upon the Deponent by striking, dragging, pulling, and otherwise abusing Deponent in said City, whereby a breech of an ordinance of said City, entitled “an Ordinance concerning vagrants and disorderly persons” was also commited as Deponent believes, and this Deponent saith that one Albert Clements and one Nathan Tener are guilty of the facts charged, and further this Deponent Saith not.
Sworn to and subscribed before me this 17th day of December A.D. 1842
Joe Smith Mayor
And Justice of the Peace
A few days later, Aidah was brought before the city council for refusing “to abide the advice of her husband” This was not the end of their story. Several months later, they were appeared before the court again, where they were admonished for not maintaining a Christian home.
Reading Aidah’s own history with spousal abuse against the stories that she later told about the abuse that happened within the Smith home raises interesting question about her role in perpetuating the rumor. As someone who had had a tumultuous relationship with her own husband, Aidah may have been especially attuned to the violence that could occur within nineteenth-century households. Did she see the violence that Eliza experienced within the Smith household as reminiscent as her own troubled relationship with Albert? Why did she ultimately decide to tell stories about what she had seen within the Smith home? How did her trial on December 20, 1842 change her perception of her faith and her relationship with her husband? Why was Smith willing to uphold her husband’s authority over her in one case when he had challenged it a few days earlier?