Benchmark Books Lecture: George Smith on Nauvoo Polygamy

By December 29, 2008

On December 10, 2008 Benchmark Books hosted a lecture/book signing with George Smith for his newly released Navuoo Polygamy: “But We Called It Celestial Marriage”.  We hope to have a review up soon of this book.  In the mean time, we want to provide a transcript of the proceedings.  Special thanks go to Brent Brizzi for his painstaking work in providing a transcription of the evening’s lecture.George Smith: First let me say, Curt [Bench] really knows how to throw a party. Before we go into this, I might recommend a book that’s not mine, and I don’t know whether you carry it.  I didn’t mention this to you, but it’s a recent book by David S. Reynolds, called “Waking Giant” America In The Age of Jackson, and it has won some awards.  Chapter four deals with religion in America, during the time of Jackson.  It mentions people like Lyman Beecher, Charles Grandison Finney, the great preacher who ended up in Oberlin College, Alexander Campbell, and Sidney Rigdon who have Mormon sequences.  Elias Hicks of The Long Island Quakers, Jemimah Wilkinson, Jacob Cochran, which is also in this book tonight.  Robert Matthews, Joshua the Jewish Minister, who traveled around of this time, of the shadow of the 2nd Great Awakening.  Jacob Cochran, Joseph Smith was included amidst these.  William Miller, Jacob Aman, Menno Simons, the person for whom the Mennonite faith was named.  Ann Lee of Shakers, George Rapp, Rappites, Robert Owens, Brook Farm, and it goes on.  It’s really quite a remarkable book, it puts Joseph Smith at that time, amidst all these other Christian thinkers, innovators, I found it very fascinating, kind of remarkable.Maybe, the question that comes up is why does somebody write a book?  Or why would I write this book?  And who wants to know about plural marriage?  Who wants to get into that discussion of the Salt Lake Church, The RLDS Community of Christ Church, The Fundamentalist LDS.  How do they relate? How do they differ?  Why does somebody want to explore that?  I kind of backed into the subject.  I didn’t start out writing a book.

I was doing a little bit of reading for the William Clayton Journals, and I noticed that William Clayton mentions Joseph Smith having several wives, and talks about some of the pleasant relationships, and some of the difficult relationships with the women, and with Emma.  There’s a certain amount of struggle in that picture, so my curiosity was sort of stimulated by working on Clayton, and I started asking people how many plural wives did Joseph have, and what about all these other people?  It was apparent that, that’s not a subject that was raised within the LDS community, or the other Mormon communities that we just mentioned.  So listing these names, and then asking people, looking at diaries and journals, going into church archives, looking at what they have, and they have a wonderful supply of information in church archives.  If you haven’t spent time there, that’s probably really worth your while to just probe individual area’s and look for names, diaries, and letters.  It’s an enormous resource.

So, starting that then, a little while later, what does this book end up being about?  I’m not sure I can answer that question cleanly, and simply.  It’s about Napoleon, and the interest in Egyptian language which was not known in the early 1800’s.  Napoleon invaded Egypt in 1798, they found the Rosetta Stone in 1799, and then the world was flooded with this mystery of Egyptian hieroglyphics, and Joseph Smith was born 1805, so he was right in the shadow of this discovery of Napoleon, then it went to English, and French scholars to try to decipher what the hieroglyphics meant, and at some point, with this interest in Egyptian, Joseph Smith, I guess it was in 1827 he got married, and then in the fall of that year he recovered what he described as plates that were engraved in Reformed Egyptian, and with his new wife he began dictating the first of, his long process of dictation which resulted in the Book of Mormon in 1830.  Well, why Egyptian?  It’s a little unclear, and were those hieroglyphics?

Well he wrote a letter to James Arlington Bennett, a newspaper man in New York, and said:  “Look these people have been trying to figure out what hieroglyphics were, they still can’t figure it out.  You have Champollion.  You have Robert, what’s his name?  Young, I forget his name the English correlate to Champollion.  They can’t figure it out, but, by the power of otherworldly influence, I am able to understand the mysteries of hieroglyphics, and then he said the secret of how he was able to do this.  “God is my right hand man.”  So he is effectively proclaiming a leapfrog ahead of all these people translating the ancient Egyptian language, and he says that he’s presenting this as ancient language, that becomes The Book of Mormon, The Book of Abraham, and he is using that language to found a religion, which in 1830 begins with the publication of The Book of Mormon, and within that book, and this is why it’s kind of interesting to think of Egyptian.

Within the book that he publishes in 1830, is the introduction of plural marriage.  It’s the earliest reference to plural marriage within the Mormon community, whichever branch of the Mormon community we’re talking about.  So, 1830 it’s presented, but how is it presented?  He’s not saying let’s have plural wives, he’s saying it’s forbidden, this is a forbidden practice, except, so it’s a conditional prohibition which when certain circumstances are fulfilled, that means it’s OK.  That’s the implication.  In the following years that change does take place.  So from this book that comes from, as he said to James Arlington Bennett, Egyptian hieroglyphics, unknown to the rest of the world, Champollion, and others.  Polygamy is introduced into the Mormon community, and it really doesn’t develop until some time later.

Of course there are various questions.  Is there somebody that he knows in Harmony, Pennsylvania?  There’s all kinds of discussions, but plural marriage really begins in the river town of Nauvoo, along the Mississippi in 1840.  It was in 1840 when Joseph’s father dies.  John Bennett moves into the community, joins him.  Joseph presents revelations to him, which are in the Doctrine and Covenants, makes him part of the hierarchy of the church, and invites him to live with himself and Emma, so those things happen.  At that same year in 1840, he talks to Joseph Noble, and introduces plural marriage to him.  Now the next year in 1841, Joe Noble marries Joseph Smith to his first plural wife that we have a real definitive wedding for, Louisa Beaman.  In the book, I upon urging of some people, Lavina Fielding Anderson for one, she said: “be sure and have all the evidence laid out, 1,2,3,.”  So I have 1 through 11 sources of documentation for Joseph Smith’s first plural marriage to Louisa Beaman, and that is April 5th 1841.  Then the story goes on, so that’s what the book is about, it’s about the Mississippi river town, it starts out with Napoleon, brings in Emma.

There’s several places we can go now in the few minutes we have.  We could talk about how Joseph Smith proposed to 38 women.  I had a difficult enough time finding one person to propose to. (Laughter).  Most of us, some people are lucky or skillful and may have two or three wives, or more.  I just think that sounds very difficult.  I think 35, 36, in those numbers, that’s pretty big number of people to persuade.  So that’s one subject, there are a whole series of conversations that were recorded by the women who were his plural wives.  Described what he said to them, how he asked them, what their first answers were, and what their next answers were.  There’s another way we can go with the few minutes remaining, and that is how he talked men into bringing home other women to their wives, which was not any easier.

I’ll tell you what, while we’re here let’s just start with the men.  Shall we do that?  There are three men that have a very curious story.  The first one is William Clayton.  You may have seen some of the work on William Clayton, so I won’t read too much of it, but, this is the beginning of chapter 4.  May I ask how many people have already read the book?  [At least a few hands went up].  So some, but not all.  The beginning of chapter 4 describes how Joseph approached William Clayton, his private secretary to bring home other women to his household.  You can imagine the response.  The response of all these men is the same.  They say:  “Are you kidding”?  I’m not going to live the day out if I do that.

So this is from William Clayton’s diary.  He says:  He’s describing his mission in England.  “Sarah Crooks bathed my forehead with rum and gave me some mint drops.”  This is 25 year old William Clayton proselyting for his new Mormon faith in Manchester, England, he’s a convert.  This is early 1840.  “My feet were very sore tonight.  Sarah washed them and gave me a pint of warm Porter, we sat together til 2:00 a.m.”  Williams wife, (not this woman), of three years, Ruth Moon, and their two children were living with her parents not more than fifty miles away.  Yet when Sarah contemplated marrying an eligible bachelor, Clayton was apprehensive, he confessed:  “I don’t want Sarah to be married.”  He has a wife, and this friend, he’s a little bit interested in, he’s not quite sure how to handle it.  He’s a decent guy with some serious temptations, the way he looks at it at least.  As she continued to attend to Clayton, he realized he was “much tempted on her account and felt to pray that the Lord would preserve me from impure affections”.  Impure thoughts or not , he admitted “I certainly feel my love towards her to increase.”  Clayton finishes his mission, he sails to America with Ruth and his children.

In a conversation with Joseph Smith he was stunned, when Joseph then asked him to take a 2nd wife, then suggested he choose Sarah Crooks from England.  He thought that problem was solved, and now the Prophet of the church that he had recently joined, has suggested that he bring her over.  Well he’s got to decide for himself what to do.  He’s got to figure out what to say to his wife, while continuing to increase his own household domain.  Smith was beginning at that time to teach the concept of eternal increase to trusted followers, and Clayton was one of the close people.  What happens is he, (Clayton) ends up writing a letter to Sarah Crooks, and proposes marriage, she delays a little bit, by the time she gets over on a ship, Clayton has married another woman, his wife’s sister, so he is now full fledged in plural marriage, and being the Prophet’s secretary, he writes down in his own journal what is going on in Joseph’s life.  So his journal is really quite interesting.

By the way when Joseph talks to Clayton, he takes him on a walk, Joseph was invited over to Clayton’s home for dinner, and while Clayton’s wife is cooking, Joseph and Bill take this long walk, and that’s when he proposes this plural marriage.  There’s another long walk, this is with Benjamin F. Johnson, who was born in Western New York, and comes from quite a large family.  In his manuscript which you probably have seen, “My life’s Review”, he describes that it was early Sunday morning, he says April 3rd or 4th, the Prophet was at my home in Ramos, Illinois, and after breakfast proposed a stroll together, and taking his arm our walk led by a swale.  Surrounded by trees, and tall brush and near the forest line not far from my house.  Through the swale ran a small spring or brook across which a tree had fallen, on this we sat down and the Prophet proceeded at once to open to me the subject of plural and Eternal Marriage.  He said “that years ago, he had, had a revelation on this subject, and it was necessary to follow through on this practice.”  Then this story develops, Benjamin Johnson gets initially angry, and says if you debauch my sister, I will kill you.  He threatens Joseph, and Joseph doesn’t look away, but stares at him directly, and just waits til he’s through, and says “Brother Ben, you’re never gonna know that.”

Benjamin Johnson was his faithful follower, you probably know also, many of the Fundamentalist community descend from Benjamin Johnson, or a certain segment.  So in effect that’s a very portentous story.  There’s a third person who goes with Joseph for a long walk in the woods, and that’s Lorenzo Snow, he’s the brother of Joseph Smith’s 13th plural wife, Eliza Snow.  At some point Lorenzo writes his own version of these events, he says:  “The month of April 1843, I returned from my European mission, a few days after my arrival in Nauvoo, when at President Joseph Smith’s house, he wished to have a private talk with me, and requested me to walk out with him, it was toward evening, we walked a little distance and sat down on a large log that lay near the bank of the river.  There and then he explained to me the doctrine of plurality of wives, and talked about how he was commanded to take other wives.  So, the pattern of explaining and convincing other men to begin to take plural wives, seems to follow a walk in the woods, a walk out by a river, alone, away from other people where a private conversation can be held.

Those three conversations were productive.  These guys, I think William Clayton married ten wives, and had 47 children, some solid number of families.  Joseph taught 33 men the practice of Celestial or plural marriage, and they took added wives and began this process.  Now he also was still in the process of convincing women to marry him, and I just wrote down a list of some of the women, just to compare, how would he go about persuading women.  Starting with Emma, his first wife, not a plural wife.  He was invited to locate treasure, he and his father stayed with the Hale’s in Pennsylvania, Emma’s father disapproved of the activity Joseph was involved in, and he said you cannot, you cannot have my daughter as a wife, well they eloped.  So it was take matter in hand, that’s how he, that’s how he married his first wife.

His 2nd wife Louisa Beaman, he said it was by command of an angel, and he married Louisa Beaman.  The 3rd wife Zina Diantha Huntington, Zina’s mother had died in 1839, her father remarried, she went to live with the Smith’s.  She describes Joseph’s personal characteristics very affectionately, she said that he was six feet, light auburn hair, heavy nose, blue eyes, filled with inspiration, she was very taken with his personal appearance.  He talked to her about worlds to come, and the command of an angel to marry plural wives, and Zina who was then married, and pregnant agreed to marry Joseph, this was his 3rd plural wife.  Quite a few of his wives were already married, and one can only speculate why, if that was just in the mix, if that was some part of the plan.  If you look at the persuasion accounts, they often include an angel with a drawn sword, who he said he was required to follow, and enter into this process.

We might ask, what about children, he’s marrying all these wives, the ones that were already married there probably wasn’t a question of children, if there were children, they would be in a household with husband, wife and other children, that wouldn’t be known.  One of those, Sylvia Sessions was married when she married Joseph, and she told her daughter, that the daughter was a child of Joseph Smith, this was Josephine Rosetta Fisher.  There’s a lot of genetic research being done, no one knows how long these various suspected children will remain possibilities, but this is one that is still in the running.  I don’t think I’ll go through and read all of these.

[At this point there was a question by someone in attendance.]

Question:  If they were already married, was there divorce back then?  How did they leave the marriage of the men they were married to?

GS:  They did not leave the marriage they were in, these were marriages which were not only polygamous from Joseph Smith’s vantage point, but they were polyandrous from the woman’s vantage point.  She in this case would maintain a relationship with her husband, then acquire a new husband, there were quite a few of those.

Question follow-up:  How did he handle the husbands?

GS:  Differently. [laughter]  Some of the husbands were very affectionate towards the church that he had founded, and toward him, and the husbands were part of the arrangement, they accepted this.  You must think that Joseph Smith had some personal force that’s very hard to recreate in our minds, in this warm, quiet room.  Not many people could do that, but he did that with several families, some men were not happy about it, and fell away from the church community, but many stayed and were part of the community.  I do take each one of these marriages 1 through 38, and describe the courtship, and how that followed up.

Q:  Weren’t those men sent on missions?

GS:  Some of the men were sent on missions.  A lot of the men were sent on missions, there were a lot of missions to attend to.

Q:  Were these of the wives he married?

GS:  You can find examples of that, and you could do a chart and say how many of those were just part of those marriages.  It’s an interesting question, and sometimes the answers are kind of convoluted, and complicated, but that’s true.

[Curt Bench at this point asked if George just wanted to “move into the questions” now.  It was obvious that George wasn’t finished with all that he wanted to cover, but was acquiescing due to the time.]

GS:  There’s one thing I will mention the subject of, and won’t go into it, unless we get into it with questions.  That is how the story of plural marriage was lost.  Maybe I’ll just introduce the subject.  It was done in private.  It was against the law in Illinois.  You didn’t want to say, yes, I’m violating the law, come and arrest me.  They just didn’t talk about it, and if there were rumors of many wives, or they had various names for the process, it was denied.

Eventually what happened is that people in the LDS community in Nauvoo didn’t know about it for a long time.  Some in the church administration discovered it, and were very unhappy about it, and objected and tried to convince Joseph to stop plural marriages, and this is not the sort of church I want to be in sort of response.  He, of course did not heed their request.  Those that were very unhappy printed the story in the newspaper, everybody in town knew about it, and he had the paper destroyed, that was kind of the end of the story.  Once you destroy a newspaper, and incidentally without due process, you know you could say a paper was libelous, but you had to bring the publishers in, and say you said this, this is not true, retract it or we will go to court, and the paper will be shut down.  There was no process, the paper was destroyed, the type was scattered in the street, and the state of Illinois at that point intervened and arrested Joseph Smith after some give and take, and he was, as everyone does know, was assassinated in a jail in Carthage, Illinois.

The end of this process did come with people in the community discover plural marriage, try to resist it.  His marriage to Maria Lawrence for whom he was serving on her estate.  He really had her legal interests as a responsibility and some people in the Nauvoo community thought there was a conflict of interest which was intolerable.  So there was an internal revolt, and when this information got out into the papers.  John Bennett a couple of years back had already sent some of this information into the papers, some of the failed proposals.  The political stuff between newspapers just kind of got more serious.  They had political differences and they would argue policy, they would say “Oh those Mormons are bloc voting, their winning elections because they tell everyone how to vote, and they do it”.  That’s what the politics was all about.

Then when you got plural marriage in, then you say not just bloc voting, you’ve got the leader of this religion which is secretly marrying these women, and saying he’s not.  Saying he’s not, was part of the dimension here.  Anyway, it unraveled in 1844, and when he was assassinated there was a tremendous uproar.  Illinois was not satisfied.  There were troops in the streets of different parts of the state, Alton, Warsaw.  The governor said to Brigham Young, you guys have got to leave because we’re going to have civil war.  There was feeling that you can’t imagine, you have to read the newspapers of the day, and maybe you can imagine a little bit.  If you think of the difficulty, the polygamous Saints in Texas are having with marriages to young women.  The anxiety that people feel then, is maybe reflective of how the people of Illinois felt about Joseph Smith, and the marriages at that time.

Q:  Do you know how many women Joseph Smith had sexual relations with?

GS:  It’s not something he announced, and not many of the women announced.  There was some discussion in the Temple Lot case 1892-3-4 that period of time.  Various of the women were asked, some said yes we were husband and wife in a complete way, they described that they had relations with him.  The questions were raised.  Well why didn’t you have any children, and one woman said “well, maybe it’s my fault, conditions weren’t too good, probably my fault, and he didn’t live very long.  So the opportunity wasn’t there, you know some people take a little time to have children, that discussion kind of continued.

Q:  1831, 1832, Spencer Winter, Johnson home, Marinda Johnson at that time is there.  One of the reasons the mob gives, if I remember correctly for coming in and attacking Joseph.

GS:  The tar and feather experience?

Q:  Yeah, if you will uncover anything about Marinda at that time, were you able to uncover anything about that?

GS:  Not specifically, yeah that is a subject that comes up.  Some people have decided that the names aren’t correct, and it didn’t really happen quite that way.  That’s really a long and convoluted argument on that specific case, but that was an issue, and Marinda did eventually, of course marry Orson Hyde, and Joseph Smith married Marinda later when Hyde was on a mission to Jerusalem, and other countries.  So there was an early meeting, and I just…one other part of the story that I didn’t mention, that is:  Where does one meet 30 plus women that you marry?  Well, he met them in Ohio, he met them in Missouri.  He met some of them when they were 4 years old, 6 years old, 8 years old, 12 years old, and married them a decade later, when they were 14, 16, 18, and 20.  He met them over a period of time, and the circumstances I would say were in motion.  People were traveling, somebody stayed under somebody’s roof, and he got to know families, and daughters staying in various places under their roof, or them staying under the roof of the Smith household.  These meetings took place over a period of approximately a decade.  Some of the women were quite young at meeting, and maybe at a normal age for marriage when they finally became wives of his.

Q:  George, I understood that he actually had polygamous marriages in the 30’s.  Are these chronicled at all?

GS:  There are various accounts of female relationships in the 30’s, whether they’re marriages, I was sort of asking that same question, and I kind of compared various marriages and associations to pregnancies that Emma had.  Emma was pregnant eight times, the first time was from September 1827, that’s the fall of the year they were married, to June 15th of 1828.  It was for example, in the spring and June of that period, there was some comment about Eliza Winters, they had accused Joseph of improper action toward Eliza Winters.  Who knows what that means?  I don’t claim to know.  Martin Harris was trying to defend Joseph, but instead of saying it didn’t happen, he said: “It is no crime for Joseph to seduce a woman”.  Now what a terrible thing for Marting Harris to say, if he’s trying to defend him, now maybe he’s trying to sandbag him, I don’t know, but that’s what he said.  So that’s a story that kind of relates early on.  The 2nd pregnancy, 1830-31, twins they died, I don’t have any relationship.  The 3rd pregnancy was Joseph the 3rd who was born November the 6th 1832.  In, around that period there was a discussion of a relationship with Fanny Alger, or a Miss Hill.  Are they two women, or separate women?  I don’t know, some people say the name was Fanny Hill, it was a mistake, it really was Fanny Alger, they got confused by a popular story about a Fanny Hill.  Or they could be two different people.

Q:  On Fanny Hill, or Fanny Alger, Van Wagenen said in his book that Emma caught Fanny with Joseph in the barn.  Did you find any information about that?

GS:  The question was.  Is there information about Emma finding her husband with one of these women in the barn?  There are several accounts, and they are from F.G. Williams, who was a printer, and close to Joseph.  Certainly Oliver Cowdery had views upon that, he called that an affair, other people call that a first plural marriage.  So there is some dispute on that.  I do cover all that I can come up with on that, I don’t know what the conclusion is, I can just give you the different accounts.

Q:  That’s why I wanted to ask what you knew.

GS:  Let me just finish just a couple of things.  Frederick was the next pregnancy, Fanny Alger left for Indiana, she was married in 1835.  The D&C was published in 1835, the first Doctrine and Covenants.  This is actually August 17, 1835, which included a passage on marriage saying:  “We, the church reject fornication, and polygamy, and they asserted the one wife policy.  Now Joseph wasn’t there at the meeting, but presumably he knew what was going on, or he didn’t, you could argue that.  That took place in August, in September of that same year Emma became pregnant with Frederick.  Now, can you make something in relating that?  I don’t know, I’m just finding the times, but there was a, you could say there was a moment of closeness, intimacy between Emma and Joseph following that rejection.  It follows in time pattern.  Do you make a connection?  You can’t, you just say it’s time related.  Then a couple of pregnancies later, April the 5th 1841, Louisa Beaman, the first known plural wife, Emma was pregnant soon after Joseph wed Louisa, so you find some cases where yes, some cases no, it goes both ways.  I’m not sure what that means, but during that pregnancy with that son, who died.  The pregnancy was May 1841 to February 1842; Joseph did marry Zina Huntington, Presendia Huntington, fall of that year, Agnes Coolbrith, his brother’s widow, January of the following year.  Lucinda Harris was married to Joseph by January 17th, according to best guesses.  He married Mary Elizabeth Lightner, the year, the end of that pregnancy, and he married Sylvia Sessions the day after the death of his newborn son.  So just looking at the pregnancy, that pregnancy was coincident with quite a series of marriages.

CB:  George, we’ve got ten minutes for questions.

GS:  The last one is David.  Emma became pregnant with David three months after Joseph’s last recorded plural marriage, that finishes that.

Q:  It seems the LDS church is now going to incredible lengths to improve the image of Emma Smith, there’s the movie, this book on her letters.  Do I perceive that right?  Talk a little about Joseph, and Emma’s relationship.

GS:  The question is about Emma’s and Joseph’s relationship

Q:  Today the LDS church is going to considerable lengths to improve the.

GS:  Right, it’s the relationship of Joseph and Emma, the church intending to improve the relationship, the appearance of the relationship.

Q:  Talk about the relationship.

GS:  The relationship was quite difficult in some cases, Emma was not entirely happy to find her gold watch in the hands of a woman that turned out to be Joseph’s wife.  There were real serious problems.  The Clayton journals really catch quite a bit of that, but just not improving that relationship, but changing the image of plural marriage, Brigham Young to be made monogamous is quite a leap.  This is a person who had 55 wives, who about 15 or so became pregnant, produced children, and to have a Sunday School manual come out in current times that suggests very strongly that he had one wife.  That does tell you there’s an effort to revise history, or improve history, whatever you want to call it.  It’s kind of a startling change.

Q:  I don’t know if you cover it in the book, about the 1831 Lamanite revelation on plural marriage.  Were there marriages that took place after that?  Is there evidence of an earlier revelation?  That one or any other?

GS:  The question is about a revelation in 1831 to go out and preach to Lamanites, and some of these were married Elders, they were to marry Native American women, and produce children whose skin would be white and delightsome, and that was part of the time.  I don’t think there’s any evidence that any married Elders actually did do such, but that was recorded, and that was part of that early history.

Q:  Number of marriages in such a short period of time.  What do you think about the theory, he had some kind of affair with Fanny Alger, the church called it a marriage.  [Something about, Joseph married several women in a short period of time, to cover for his relationship with Fanny Alger.]

GS:  So you’re relating the accounts of Fanny Alger to the numerous plural marriages shortly after that.  I don’t quite know how to make a relationship, frankly.

Q:  Why so many marriages?

GS:  Ostensibly, the marriages were for the purpose of creating a righteous seed, and many of them.  It follows to promises given to Abraham, that his seed would be numerous as the sands upon the seashore.  The Mormons at that time were saying, “We are the sequel to the Jewish recipient that, of that promise, and if you have many children that furthers that end of world expectation, and maybe that was part of that relationship.

Q:  Did you have good access to the Church Archives?  Total access?

GS:  I thought I had excellent access, I was surprised at the help that I got from the church archivists.  In fact if you look at the computer screen, and you try to find some of these events and places, you just can really get lost, unless you’re quite an expert, and I remember getting advice, “well you actually can’t find it on the screen, if you go over to this bookshelf, and pull this notebook out, and you look at the third section, this tells you where to find it”.  Well, I could not do that myself, so yeah, I had a lot of help, and I’m very thankful to the people that spent time doing that.

Q:  Did you attempt any psychological evaluation of Joseph?

GS:  Did I attempt any psychological evaluation of Joseph?  No. [laughter].  I was not competent, nor am I competent to do that.

Q:  In your research do you encounter the idea that Joseph is perhaps working on a revelation plan?  That he knew who his wives were supposed to be when he came here?

GS:  When he came where?

Q:  Into mortality?

GS:  Which wife?

Q:  In a prior life did he have an idea who his wives should be when he came here?

GS:  Who all his wives would be?

Q:  Not necessarily, but any of them.  As he encountered them, recognized them?

GS:  The question is.  Did Joseph give any signals that he knew who his wives were going to be?  I’m not aware that he did, I think that would be a remarkable thought to pursue.  If you found examples of that, I think that would be something to publish an article on.

Q:  I believe in some of the RLDS newspaper that Joseph was reported as saying that plural marriage was a cursed doctrine, if you could say some of this.

GS:  Did Joseph Smith at the end of his life, say something about polygamy being a cursed doctrine?  I think he is quoted as saying something like “this is a curse, or this will be a curse for us”.  I think he was responding to a conversation which was very intense, and he was sort of giving ground to someone who was trying to persuade him to cease the process.  There is a quote that sounds like that.  I don’t know if he ever could be recorded as consistently backing off.

Q:  Do you have any idea how Joseph invited the first few men?  I understand Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, maybe even Benjamin Knight.  How did he decide who he was to invite?

GS:  The question is how did Joseph Smith decide whom he was going to invite to practice plural marriage?  I’m not entirely sure I could answer that easily, I’d have to start thinking.  These people were close to him, they were close friends, they were part of the church community, part of the Smith family.  They included when he could get his cooperation, Hyrum, William, George A. Smith, his cousin, and his Uncle, John Smith.  So there were besides Joseph, four Smith family members that were part of this polygamous community.  There were other people who were part of the, I would say good friends, part of the leadership, but I don’t know if there were any sets of criteria that said, “this defines who they are”.

Q: [Inaudible]

GS:  The question was regarding the balance sheet of the legacy of polygamy?  The good results, vs. the difficult results, I don’t know, I think one thing that has happened is that we have different groups of people who’ve responded to pressure.  After the Republican party formed, the platform of 1856 to eradicate twin relics of barbarism, polygamy, and slavery, after the Civil War, they came out west, really after the Mormons, too control the property, and to be a serious problem.  They were such a serious problem that the church leadership agreed to acquiesce.  Not everybody agreed, polygamy went underground, at first it went to Mexico, Colonia Juarez, Colonia, Dublan.  It went to Canada, Wyoming, different states.  To this day we have what we think are probably 37-40 thousand Mormon community polygamists, different names, varieties.  The main church, the largest LDS Church of course, is not only opposed to polygamy, trying to forget it, but it’s very, very opposed to it.  I suppose you would say the Community of Christ, the RLDS Church is now in the same camp as the LDS Church essentially, both opposed.  I don’t know how to calculate a balance sheet, I think you had different groups of people finding their comfort area’s, and some people were so agonized, of having been forced to leave something they considered very important, they formed their own community, and the others who wanted to forget it, did so.  So you have separate balance sheets.

CB:  I’m afraid we’re out of time, let’s give George a hand for that.  I appreciate very much, it’s our privilege to have you.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. Thanks for this, Jared and Brent.

    Comment by Ben — December 29, 2008 @ 11:27 am

  2. Agreed, thanks.

    Comment by J. Stapley — December 29, 2008 @ 12:35 pm

  3. No Lou Midgley appearance?

    Comment by Deep Sea — December 31, 2008 @ 3:58 am

  4. Deep Sea: hahahahahahahahahahahaha, sadly it appears not.

    We’ll just have to wait for the FARMS response in print. Maybe they will devote a whole issue? *shudder*

    Comment by Ben — December 31, 2008 @ 11:24 am

  5. Thanks for providing this transcription.

    Comment by John Hamer — January 1, 2009 @ 10:35 pm

  6. I was doing a little bit of reading for the William Clayton Journals, and I noticed that William Clayton mentions Joseph Smith having several wives, and talks about some of the pleasant relationships, and some of the difficult relationships with the women, and with Emma. There?s a certain amount of struggle in that picture, so my curiosity was sort of stimulated by working on Clayton, and I started asking people how many plural wives did Joseph have, and what about all these other people? It was apparent that, that?s not a subject that was raised within the LDS community, or the other Mormon communities that we just mentioned.

    This is what happened to me. I was reading all of this early church history when I kept running into the “P” word. Having been raised in the church I knew all about it. When the Saints came across the plains the men worked themselves to death and there were all of these widows that couldn’t take care of themselves. The few men that were left had to take all of these widows in and provide for them even though they didn’t want to. They still tell that story apologetically in my gospel doctrine class.

    After reading countless journals and early church history I had developed my own picture. There was no apologizing and they actually defended it. Near the time of the first Manifesto they actually held special priesthood conferences to encourage more men to enter into polygamy. At the same time the women in the church formed a group to defend polygamy.

    I have wondered many times if the early Prophets and Apostles are as embarrassed of us, as the church is today of polygamy. At one point those that served time in prison for polygamy offered the Hosanna shout from inside the prison. Just because we acknowledge that it did happened doesn’t mean that we want to revive the practice.

    Q: In your research do you encounter the idea that Joseph is perhaps working on a revelation plan? That he knew who his wives were supposed to be when he came here?

    GS: When he came where?

    Q: Into mortality?

    GS: Which wife?

    Q: In a prior life did he have an idea who his wives should be when he came here?

    GS: Who all his wives would be?

    Q: Not necessarily, but any of them. As he encountered them, recognized them?

    GS: The question is. Did Joseph give any signals that he knew who his wives were going to be? I?m not aware that he did, I think that would be a remarkable thought to pursue. If you found examples of that, I think that would be something to publish an article on.

    I remember reading this in a book or journal at one time too.

    Comment by Mike — February 1, 2009 @ 3:05 am

  7. No Lou Midgley appearance?

    Comment by Deep Sea ? December 31, 2008 @ 3:58 am

    Deep Sea: hahahahahahahahahahahaha, sadly it appears not.

    We?ll just have to wait for the FARMS response in print. Maybe they will devote a whole issue? *shudder*

    Comment by Ben ? December 31, 2008 @ 11:24 am

    What am I missing?

    Comment by Mike — February 2, 2009 @ 1:13 am

  8. Mike: we are just playing off of the fact that FARMS (often embodied in Midgley) are quick to attack what they feel is too “humanistic” history.

    Whether their attacks are accurate or not, many feel they may go over the top.

    Comment by Ben — February 2, 2009 @ 3:15 pm

  9. OK. I agree with that. I read a couple good reviews from FARMS a few years ago. At the time I was interested in Purchasing The Wives of Joseph Smith by Todd Compton. I read FARMS review of it and then decided against buying it. A couple of months later I ran across it again and purchased it.

    When I was done I reread the FARMS review which was now obviously inaccurate. The FARMS review was similar to the anti-mormon literature out there and almost outlandishly dogmatic. Obviously the reviewer was offended that someone had published a book about Joseph Smith having more than one wife.

    The only aspect of the review that held water was the fact that Compton filled in some of the blanks on his own. Although he did have a point I didn’t agree that it was a reason to condemn the book for two reasons. First, it was the only way to make the book read fluidly and not like a bunch of statistics. Second Compton made it obvious whenever he was making an assumption, which let the reader decide for himself.

    One thing that I feel the review did was help to support the distance that the Church is producing between itself and polygamy. I fail to see any good being done by an inaccurate review. My take on the book was that it was very well researched and presented a lot of valuable information. I have yet to meet a historian that has only read one book in his area of expertise. Although it is not an all inclusive treatise on polygamy and Joseph Smith it moves the reader one step closer in understanding how people in that time period felt and why they did what they did. Isn’t that why we read history anyways.

    I guess in a sense I agree with the comments then. This was the last FARMS review that I have read.

    Comment by Mike — February 2, 2009 @ 4:55 pm


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