Reading Like a Conspiracy Theorist, 3: Quinn and Hardy

By November 5, 2008

As I explained in earlier posts, I’m not the first to discover that Mission President James G. Duffin married Sister Missionary Amelia B. Carling in 1902 while she was still a missionary. D. Michael Quinn identified Duffin as a polygamist in 1985 and B. Carmon Hardy did so in 1992. This post will update details of both publications. [1]

Hardy, relying on Victor W. Jorgensen, identifies Duffin and Carling’s marriage date as 1903 Jul 27 and cites Quinn, page “83,” as the authority. The Quinn reference should be “93,” and on the date given Carling was almost certainly in Mexico, sickly, with her and Duffin’s sickly three-week-old infant. [2] I argued earlier for 1902 Aug 12 as the date. [3]

Hardy’s reference to Quinn comes from Duffin’s only appearance in Quinn’s article (square brackets as in Quinn, angle brackets mine) [4]:

At the end of July <1903>, President Smith met with his first cousin once removed, Central States Mission President James G. Duffin, whose post-Manifesto plural wife had just given birth, and authorized him “to use $10.00 per month out of the tithes of the mission for a special purpose [supporting the polygamous child].”

The Southwestern States Mission did not become the Central States Mission until 1904, but the idea that Smith would authorize $10 per month to support a mission president’s child is economically and institutionally plausible. [5] In 1903, $10 per month supplemented a laborer’s household budget but did not replace it. [6] The stipend also fit in the mission budget, probably representing about 5% of yearly tithing revenues. [7] Well into the twentieth century, Mormon ideas about disposing tithes, individual and kingdom benefits, and book-keeping allowed for a great deal of personal discretion. [8] Footing some of a mission president’s bills permitted the church to continue to function. [9] Lastly, Duffin likely needed the support. He already had a wife, several living children, and a mission of unknown length to finance—all while on that mission and not gainfully employed. In 1905 Duffin explicitly noted that his Utah family lacked resources. [10]

However, I find no indication that the “special purpose” was “supporting the polygamous child.” [11] The entire diary entry cited by Quinn, 27 July 1903, reads:

I arrived in Salt Lake City and by invitation of Prest. Smith stayed at the Beehive House. Prest. Smith also authorized me to use $1000 per month out of the tithes of the mission for a special purpose, and such to be reported as miscellaneous expenses.

Other than this entry, Duffin only used “miscellaneous expenses” or its analogs in connection with shipping the bodies of deceased missionaries home (twice) or purchasing land (once). [12] What those expenses were my forensic-accountant gerbils have not discovered, but I’m not prepared to charge book-cooking or “code” without more evidence. I’ve also run dry on circumstantial hypotheses. Following hard on the marriage entries, Duffin prepared the only mid-year mission financial statement, which could suggest he verified that the mission could support his new family. [13] If Duffin sent Carling money regularly, we might see a pattern in their mail—but we (I) don’t. [14] Finally, if we were soulless slime-monkeys, we could charge Duffin with preaching tithing for his own benefit; we’re not. [15] Though I don’t find the idea unreasonable, I see no evidence that Duffin used tithing to support his family.

That said, I have three beefs with how Quinn glossed the source. First, the “gloss” is more than one step removed from the primary text (i.e., it’s not just summarizing or identifying an antecedent), which is a no-no. Second, it’s at the end of the quote, so it could just as easily have been outside, reducing the ambiguity. Third, regardless of where the gloss went, the footnote should have identified the supposition.

Caveat scriptor: If you put it in quotes, you swear on your favorite spot in the library that it, with its brackets and ellipses, reflects the obvious sense of the original. Brackets are not permission to make stuff up, no matter how plausible. As I’ve been arguing in this series, to effectively interpret some sources we must think sort of like conspiracy theorists, and Dr. Quinn was right to label Duffin-Carling a polygamous match. But, in the end we must support our claims with evidence and clearly demarcate any conjectures or assumptions. We might need to read like conspiracy theorists, but we must not write like conspirators. [16]

Recapitulating: I confirm Quinn and Hardy’s identification of the Duffin-Carling marriage as polygamous and after the Manifesto. With this post I bring their data into higher resolution. And if it turns out that the group sheet does specify that tithing supported Erma, I’ll be really embarrassed.


[1] D. Michael Quinn, “LDS Church Authority and New Plural Marriages, 1890–1904,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 18(1): 93 (9–105). In a 1991 talk Quinn put Carling and Duffin together. D. Michael Quinn, Bluffdale, Utah, 1991 Aug 11, unofficial transcript posted, but not prepared, by Perry L. Porter,, accessed 2008 Oct 30; B. Carmon Hardy, Solemn Covenant: The Mormon Polygamous Passage (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1992), Appendix 2. There are various places that Duffin and Carling might have been outed that I haven’t looked. For example, Kenneth L. Cannon II, “Beyond the Manifesto: Polygamous Cohabitation among LDS General Authorities after 1890,” Utah Historical Quarterly 46 (1978): 24; Kenneth Cannon II, “After the Manifesto: Mormon Polygamy, 1890–1906,” Sunstone (Jan–Apr 1983); the Salt Lake Tribune from 1900–1915 or so.

[2] I’m extrapolating the illness from Duffin’s statement in September that “Amelia and baby have not been very well since baby’s birth” (1903 Sep 29) and assuming that they stayed close to home (in Mexico).

[3] Hardy also cites Apostle Matthias Cowley’s 1911 disciplinary hearing as a source; so far as I know, the hearing only establishes that Cowley officiated a polygamous marriage for Duffin. “The Trials of Apostle John W. Taylor and Matthias F. Cowley,” Doctrine of the Priesthood 4, no. 1 (1987): 26.

[4] Dialogue 18(1): 93 (9–105).

[5] Duffin Diary, 1904 Apr 04

[6] The $10 monthly stipend would have had a “purchasing power” of about USD$240 in 2007. (Lawrence H. Officer and Samuel H. Williamson, “Purchasing Power of Money in the United States from 1774 to 2007,” MeasuringWorth, 2008,, accessed 2008 Nov 04. Purchasing Power calculations are loose approximations at best and don’t necessarily account for changes in the nature of products or services or in their relative importance for lifestyle.) A 1905 report calculated an average monthly wage for a “common laborer” as about $37 per month in 1900; another report put typical wages in the same neighborhood in 1903. Thus, a $10-per-month stipend—about a fourth of a worker’s salary—would be consistent with supporting a child. By itself, it would not be enough to support any degree of comfort for mother and infant, but it would be enough to meaningfully supplement the budget. (Edith Abbott, “The Wages of Unskilled Labor in the United States 1850-1900,” The Journal of Political Economy 13, no. 3 (1905 Jun): 365 (321-367). The reported average wage per day is $1.482. ($1.482/day)*(6 days/week)*(50 weeks/year) / (12 months/year) = $37.05/month. A quick perusal of Nineteenth Annual Report of the Commissioner of Labor, 1904: Wages and Hours of Labor (Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1905), p. 367-434, suggests that the average wage for most male occupations ranged between $0.1 and $0.3 per hour, or between $25 and $75 per month, assuming 10-hour days, 6-day weeks, and 50-week years.)

[7] Duffin records tithing revenues of $2,554 and $2,565 for 1901 and 1905, respectively. (1901 Dec 22; 1906 Mar 31. With the 1901 data he also noted the 1899 and 1900 values: $729 and $1,1512, respectively.) Assuming, for conversation, that tithing revenues held constant in between, the $120-per-year miscellanea would have been an expenditure of about 5% of tithing revenue, that is: ($10 stipend/month)*(12 months/year)*(100%) / ($2,400 revenue per year)*100% = 5%. Duffin records remitting some tithing monies to Salt Lake and seems to have kept the mission well within its financial means, so the 5% was not likely onerous. (Recall that tithing, then as now, provided only a portion of the mission’s funds. Tithing to Salt Lake: 1901 Jul 21 (it’s not clear if this is personal or mission tithing), 1902 Aug 09 (the liability owed the Presiding Bishops); Within means: For 1901 Duffin reported $1,048 more in assets ($2,582) than liabilities ($1,534; 1901 Dec 22). For 1905 the unattached value was $1,915 (1906 Mar 31).)

[8] See Leonard Arrington’s Brigham Young: American Moses, especially the chapter about executing his will, for a description of some of the thinking about finances. See Thomas Alexander’s Mormonism in Transition, 1890-1930 for a description of the rationalization and institutionalization of modern accounting ideas. For later developments see also E. Jay Bell, “The Windows of Heaven Revisited: The 1899 Tithing Reformation,” Journal of Mormon History 19(2): 45–83.

[9] The leadership pool was much smaller and shallower then than now. Those occupying positions that we now label “general authorities” were the First Presidency (3), Quorum of the Twelve (12), Presiding Patriarch (1), and Seven Presidents of the Seventy (7), for a total of 23. There were about ten missions at the time and were of sufficient prominence to speak at general conference frequently (though my impression is that the selection process was less rigid then than now). Further, as Quinn notes, Duffin and Smith were cousins, which probably didn’t hurt Duffin’s chances for support.

[10] Mary, Duffin’s wife, “is a little short of means to keep up the expenses of the family” (1905 Apr 13); On the subject of a piano: “I did not feel that we could hardly afford to buy just now, but the children want it so I thought the Lord would bless us in raising the means for the payments” (1904 Apr 18); The repeated prophecies about “means” also bespeak stretched resources: “You will never again be cramped for or worried about means” (1902 Aug 09); “I should be ‘blessed with an abundance of means’” (1904 Jul 19). Clearly, the Duffins were doing more than just subsisting; witness the piano above and the attendance of their children at BYU: “Yesterday I made arrangements with Prest. Cluff of the B.Y.U. for the payment of the tuition of Franklin and Clarence, which amounts to $62.00, paying him in dried figs and molasses” (1903 Oct 23).

[11] Quinn supports the statement with a footnote: “James G. Duffin, Diary, 27 July 1903; Duffin Family Group Sheet; Matthias F. Cowley, Marriage Record.” I’m assuming the diary founds the conjecture—I just don’t see a family group sheet mentioning, “Oh, by the way, the baby was supported by tithing,” especially one presented without a preparer’s name, a preparation date, or a list of sources. It is unlikely Cowley’s marriage record identified the child’s support source a year before that support was authorized.

[12] Duffin recorded $5.00 of “Miscellaneous Expenses” in connection with the death of Elder Richard E. Johnson, $20.45 in “Sundry Expenses-trip with body” with the death of Elder George O. Stanger, and $27.00 for travel “and some other expenses connected with the purchase” of land in Independence (1903 Aug 25; 1903 May 26; 1904 Apr 14). Duffin prepared annual financial statements but he did not record them in his diary after 1902, so we cannot evaluate whether or how he spent the money. Duffin tabulated the mission’s finances in his diary in 1901 Dec and 1902 Aug (1901 Dec 22; 1902 Jan 01, Aug 09; 1906 Mar 31); he mentioned preparing and/or sending “Tithing and Statistical Reports” to the Presiding Bishop but did not record the details for 1904-1906 (1904 Jan 01, 30, Feb 28; 1905 Jan 06, 31; 1906 Jan 27). I assume the reports are somewhere, but I have not yet tracked them down.

[13] As I noted earlier, the Aug 06–09 entries were written together sometime after the 9th and there is a blank space between the Aug 09 entry and the financial statement, suggesting that Duffin left a space for the marriage trip and then prepared the mid-year financial statement first—while he was still on the trip. Ignoring for a moment how far we are from any actual piece of evidence, it’s possible that Duffin and Cowley discussed the possibility of using mission funds and that Duffin “ran the numbers.” We do know they talked about his ability to support the family (the prophecy of “means” on Aug 09), but it seems unlikely that Duffin would have needed to sketch a budget of thousands to know if he could find a hundred.

[14] And even if we did, we’d just say that married folks write letters regularly. The times Duffin recorded corresponding with Carling are all in 1904, but I discern neither pattern nor explanation for why he did not record their communications for the first year after the alleged support began. 1904 May 13, Jun 20, 29, Jul 02, 22, Aug 30, Dec 24.

[15] To accuse someone of manipulating church resources so brazenly for their own benefit would require meeting a higher burden of proof than normal; I find no proof at all. Significant emphasis on tithing came from church headquarters around this time, so Duffin’s putative contribution would be undetectable (1902 Feb 03, 1902 Nov 17, E. Jay Bell, “The Windows of Heaven Revisited: The 1899 Tithing Reformation,” Journal of Mormon History 19(2): 45–83). If Duffin was concerned about money, it was more likely because he was trying to establish an architectural presence for the church in Independence. (“We were unanimous that when we put up a building at Independence it should be a first class structure” (1904 Oct 29). Also, e.g., 1904 Jul 05, 1904 Sep 26, 1904 Oct 07.) Finally, I detect no correlation between his teaching and Erma’s birth in 1903 Jul (1901 May 23, 27, Nov 17; 1904 Apr 11, Aug 07, 31, Sep 17; 1906 Jun 30).

[16] Also, just like with a clandestinely polygamist diarist, once a scholar uses a quote idiosyncratically, every time they quote I’ll wonder about their reliability.


  1. “Brackets are not permission to make stuff up”

    What is the fun in writing history if you can’t make a few things up? (grin)

    This reminds me a bit on seerstones a while ago. Mormonism is blessed to have so many rich sources. Unfortunately, it seems that because there are so many, sometimes things are circulated without appropriate critical review.

    Comment by J. Stapley — November 6, 2008 @ 12:15 am

  2. Thanks for sharing your methodology. I love this kind of research, and love trying to learn how to do it myself.

    Comment by BruceC — November 6, 2008 @ 9:54 am

  3. Sorry for the sidetrack but I respect the opinion of so many of the contributors.

    I just finished the new book by David Roberts, “Devils Gate, Brigham Young and the Great Handcart Tragedy”. Roberts continually quotes Fawn Brodie and states that her work provides the definitive biography of Joseph Smith.
    As such, my comment questions such a statement. Do most non-LDS accept that the Brodie book is in fact the most accurate account of the Prophet Joseph Smith? Has any credence been given to Donna Hill’s or Richard Bushman’s work by non-lds?

    By the way, has anyone thought about providing a review on Roberts’s book?

    Comment by PJD — November 6, 2008 @ 10:31 am

  4. There are various places that Duffin and Carling might have been outed that I haven’t looked. For example, Kenneth L. Cannon II, “Beyond the Manifesto: Polygamous Cohabitation among LDS General Authorities after 1890,” Utah Historical Quarterly 46 (1978): 24; Kenneth Cannon II, “After the Manifesto: Mormon Polygamy, 1890–1906,” Sunstone (Jan–Apr 1983)

    Cannon’s Sunstone article does not explicitly mention Duffin or Carling.

    Comment by Justin — November 6, 2008 @ 11:40 am

  5. Very nice write-up again Edje. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying your footnotes. It’s a real art form to create footnotes of that quality.

    Comment by Researcher — November 6, 2008 @ 11:51 am

  6. Finally, if we were soulless slime-monkeys, we could charge Duffin with preaching tithing for his own benefit; we’re not.

    Speak for yourself, Edje. 🙂

    Seriously, though. Thanks for this thoughtful and insightful series. I’ve forwarded the links to each of your posts to Ken Cannon (Kenneth L. Cannon II), so maybe he’ll weigh in on some of this.


    I believe that one of the permas hereplans to review Roberts’s book. Concerning bios of JS, I think it is safe to say that non-Latter-day Saint scholars have not paid much attention to Donna Hill’s bio. Meanwhile, Bushman’s RSR has received much more attention (and praise) from the historical community. I don’t know whether it has entirely replaced Brodie as the preferred interpretation, but no responsible scholar can ignore Bushman and rely solely on Brodie.

    Comment by Christopher — November 6, 2008 @ 2:08 pm

  7. J. Stapley: “What’s the fun…?” Well, there’s always proofreading and sourcechecking and, my personal favorite, schlepping all these books and papers around.

    BruceC: Thanks and good luck with the learning. I look forward to you insights on Tennessee saints.

    PJD: Thanks for stopping by. I agree with Christopher’s statement about JS bios.

    Justin: Thanks, as always for finding something for me. I keep forgetting Sunstone has online archives.

    Researcher: Thanks. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed it. I’m not sure footnotes are an art but one does have to suffer for them…

    Christopher: Oh, good. I’ve always wanted to ask a slime-monkey what they do about slime stains. Do you just live with them or do you have a way to get the stains out of your clothes?

    Thanks for forwarding to Cannon. Here’s hoping he can drop by.

    Comment by Edje — November 6, 2008 @ 4:40 pm

  8. Regarding Roberts’ work on Devil’s Gate, Melvin Johnson will be sending a review to the AML site in the next couple weeks.

    Comment by Jake Starkey — November 17, 2008 @ 1:49 pm

  9. […] Reading Like a Conspiracy Theorist 3: Quinn and Hardy […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » From The Archives: Posts You Might Have Missed, November-December 2008 — July 6, 2009 @ 12:55 am


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