“My Father Had but One Ewe Lamb”: Joseph Smith and Helen, Heber, and Vilate Kimball

By May 14, 2015

Helen Kimball as Joseph Smith’s 14-year-old wife understandably gets a lot of attention in discussions about Smith’s marital practices. In my dissertation, I argue that the story of Helen’s marriage to Smith sheds lights on larger issues so I’m posting those passages here. First, however, I’m posting a few paragraphs where I give a summary of my argument about Smith’s overall intent. It’s pages 371-74 of my dissertation.

The sexuality of Smith’s marriages has been much debated, but boiling Smith’s marital relationships down to sex misses the point. The point of the marriages, again, was best described by Mary Lightner, both in her description of the 1831 “sealing” and in the proposal to her by Smith: to be united with Smith so as to go with him into the Father’s kingdom. This was something that many early Mormons wanted. Oliver Huntington said that “soon after Dimick had given our sisters Zina & Prescinda to Joseph as wives for eternity,” Smith offered Dimick any reward he wanted. Dimick requested “that where you and your fathers family are, there I and my fathers family may also be.”[1] Todd Compton argues that a number of polyandrous husbands may have known about the sealing, particularly Henry Jacobs and Windsor Lyon.[2]

As all the sealings during Smith’s life were between men and women (none were between persons of the same gender), being sealed to a common spouse may have been the means by which men were sealed to each other in Smith’s system. Such is suggested in Bernheisel’s sealings: he was sealed to the wife of his brother, which may have sealed him to his brother in Smith’s system. When Smith changed from marrying married to single women (discussed below), Heber C. Kimball felt that having his daughter sealed to Smith allowed him to be sealed to Smith as well. The popular ancient Jewish writer, Flavius Josephus, expressed a similar idea in his telling of the story of Pharaoh taking Abraham’s wife that Smith likely read (see Chapter Six). “And when he had found out the truth,” Josephus explained, “he excused himself to Abram, that supposing the woman to be his sister, and not his wife, he set his affections on her, and desiring an affinity with him by marrying her, but not as incited by lust to abuse her.”[3] “Affinity” was the term used by Perfectionists to explain the special relationship between soul mates (Smith might also have used this term). Perhaps men who felt this kind of spiritual connection for each other, felt like Josephus’s Pharaoh that marrying a close relative or even the wife of the special friend was a means by which men could be linked to each other.

At the same time, it would be a mistake to think that Smith’s wives were simply connectors between Smith and their husbands; Smith told Mary Lightner that they had a pre-mortal bond. After Lightner was sealed to Smith, her husband moved her fifteen-miles up the river from Nauvoo: “The Prophet felt very sad when he knew we were going to leave,” said Lightner, “and with tears running down his cheeks he prophesied that if we left the Church we would have plenty of sorrow.”[4] This statement suggests that Smith felt a deep attachment to Lightner, and that he wanted her nearby. Again the purpose of the sealings was to be bound together in the Father’s kingdom for eternity. Sealing marriage seems to have been the means to create this great union, this “nucleus of heaven.” In 1843, John C. Bennett asserted that Smith taught that because individuals could not marry in heaven, “It has been revealed to him that there will be no harmony in heaven unless the Saints select their companions and marry IN TIME, FOR ETERNITY!!! They must marry in time so as to begin to form the sincere attachment and unsophisticated affection which is so necessary to consummate in eternity in order to the peace of Heaven.”[5] This statement from Bennett is similar to Benjamin Johnson’s assertion: “That our great mission to earth was to Organize a Neculi [nucleus] of Heaven to take with us.”[6] Bennett’s statement also sheds light on Smith’s reaction to Lightner moving up the river: the goal of the sealing unions was to form earthly attachments that would persist in the next life. Having those attachments broken, even by fifteen miles, was painful for Smith.

Therefore, the sealing marriages were the means of enacting what Mary Lightner had recalled from the meeting at Smith’s house in 1831: they were ordinances that would bind Smith’s special loved ones to him for time and all eternity. The importance of being connected to loved ones was essential according to Smith. In language similar to his revelation on marriage, Smith declared, “Those who keep no eternal Law in this life or make no eternal contract are single & alone in the eternal world and are only made Angels to minister to those who shall be heirs of Salvation never becoming Sons of God having never kept the Law of God.”[7] As Smith’s brother William said in a blessing to Ann B. Peterson, “But the fullness of her Salvation cannot be made perfect until her companion is with her & those who are of his kingdom for until the kindred Spirits are gathered up: and are united in the celestial kingdom as one.”[8]

Here is my passage on Helen?s marriage to Smith. It’s pages 377-82 of my dissertation.

According to Heber Kimball’s grandson, Orson F. Whitney, before Smith taught Kimball about plural marriage, “He put him to a test which few men would have been able to bear. It was no less than a requirement for him to surrender his wife, his beloved Vilate, and give her to Joseph in marriage.” “Three days he fasted and wept and prayed,” said Whitney, “Then, with a broken and bleeding heart, but with a soul self-mastered for the sacrifice, he led his darling wife to the Prophet’s house and presented her to Joseph.” Whitney said that the act proved his faithfulness, “The will for the deed was taken, and “accounted unto him for righteousness.” Kimball held “back nothing,” but laid “all upon the altar for God’s glory.” Thus Whitney presented Kimball as passing the Abrahamic test, and Kimball was rewarded by being sealed to Vilate.[9] Todd Compton dates this event as having occurred in early 1842, when Smith was marrying married women.[10] While the proposal fits the pattern, Smith telling his married wives that his proposal was just a test does not; Smith married a number of married women.

There was an addendum to the story that Whitney mentioned almost as a side note: “Soon after the revelation was given a gold link was forged whereby the houses of Heber and Joseph were indissolubly and forever joined. Helen Mar, the eldest daughter of Heber Chase and Vilate Murray Kimball was given to the Prophet in the holy bonds of celestial marriage.”[11] Helen’s account of her marriage to Smith suggests that her story was linked to that of her father’s. In her 1881 autobiography, Helen stated, “Just previous to my father’s starting upon his last mission but one, to the Eastern States, he taught me the principle of Celestial marrage [sic], & and having a great desire to be connected with the Prophet, Joseph, he offered me to him; this I afterwards learned from the Prophet’s own mouth.”[12] According to Helen, who was fourteen at the time, it was Heber who offered her to Smith because he wanted to be connected to the prophet.

This brings up the question: if Heber wanted to be connected with Smith, why didn’t Smith simply marry Vilate? Again, Smith married a number of married women. Helen?s language also invokes that of the Abrahamic trial: “My father had but one Ewe lamb, but willingly laid her upon the alter.”[13] Might Helen have been a replacement for Vilate? Wilhelm Wyl, the anti-Mormon editor of the Salt Lake Tribune, in 1886 asserted that Helen was a replacement for Vilate.[14] When asked about Wyl’s assertion, Helen responded that “the falsehoods furnished by Sarah M. Pratt[15] about my father, mother, & myself are enough to damn her without any thing more.”[16] Wyl put the matter in very negative terms, but Helen had used similar language in her autobiography five years earlier. Again, Orson Whitney said Smith asked for Vilate and we know that Smith was marrying married women at that time. Helen said that Smith told her that Heber had promised Helen to Smith. The two incidents could have been linked.

The story of Heber and Helen Mar Kimball may provide a window into the shift of Smith’s marital practices from married to single women: upset at the prospect of sharing wives, Smith’s inner circle may have preferred that he marry their daughters instead.   In 1854, Jedediah Grant (Brigham Young’s assistant at the time) recalled what the early days of polygamy were like for Smith’s followers in Nauvoo: “When the family organization was revealed from heaven–the patriarchal order of God, and Joseph began, on the right and on the left, to add to his family, what a quaking their was in Israel. Says one brother to another, “now suppose Joseph should come and say he wanted your wife, what would you say to that?’ ‘I would tell him to go to hell.’ This was the spirit of many in the early days of the Church.”[17] Grant asserted that Smith was asking for the wives of his followers and that telling Smith “to go to hell” was the spirit of many in the early days. Grant used the phrase “what a quaking there was in Israel” to describe the attitude. The despondency of Orson Pratt (another apostle) over the claims that Smith had proposed to his wife Sarah, best demonstrates the “quaking in Israel” that Grant described. While the incident is controversial, Smith proposing to Sarah Pratt fits the pattern of him proposing to many married women at that time.[18]

The controversy surrounding Smith’s fallout with John C. Bennett, who placed the claims of Sarah Pratt at the center of his attack on Smith, was likely the catalyst behind Smith?s shift from marrying married to single women. Orson Pratt was despondent at the claim that Smith had proposed to his wife, “My sorrows are greater than I can bear!” he wrote his wife, “Where I am henceforth it matters not.” Pratt turned dissenter for a time and Bennett’s disclosures were very bad press. In addition, Smith was forced to hide from Missouri extradition attempts that summer.[19] On June 29, 1842, Smith married his first single wife since Louisa Beaman, Eliza R. Snow, indicating a change in Smith’s marital practices. Furthermore, Smith’s new marriages slowed considerably that summer; he only married four women between the summer of 1842 and the spring of 1843. After Eliza, Smith’s next wife was Sarah Ann Whitney, his first teenage bride since Fanny Alger. After Sarah, Smith’s next wife was Martha McBride Knight who was widowed and the next was Ruth Vose Sayers who was married.[20] The median age for these women was 34, the mean was 29.

The major change in Smith’s marital pattern came in the spring of 1843 when he began marrying again in earnest. Smith had reconciled with Orson Pratt and seemed to have regained his confidence.[21] But now he was marrying almost all single women, who were, on the whole, considerably younger than his previous wives. Smith married 14 women between spring and summer of 1843, all but one of whom were single and most of whom were young. The median age of these single women was 19.[22] This was a very different pattern than the one of 1841-42, where the median age was 32. If Smith could not marry married women, then he needed to marry women before they were married, which meant he needed to marry them at a younger age.

Interestingly, Smith’s polygamy revelation began by saying, “You have enquired of my hand, to know and understand wherein I the Lord justified my servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; as also Moses, David, and Solomon, my servants, as touching the principle and doctrine of their having many wives, and concubines.”[23] The revelation was dated July 1843 (though it may have been given earlier) but since Smith had begun marrying other women as early as 1833, Smith asking about the polygyny of the biblical prophets at this much later date is further evidence that polygyny was not the original program. Again the Book of Mormon condemned David and Solomon’s polygyny: Jacob says of the Nephites, “They seek to excuse themselves in committing whoredoms, because of the things which were written concerning David, and Solomon his son. Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord. Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none.”[24] Therefore switching to polygyny would be in defiance of the Book-of-Mormon commandment. Again, Jacob does say that there is an exception (“raise up seed”) but, as I argue above, that was likely a reference to shared wives, or even composite marriage. But now Smith was asking a new question: despite what the Book of Mormon said, God seemed to have allowed a number of Old Testament figures to have multiple wives. In response, the revelation explains that there is a higher antinomian law: the law is to do what God says, and if God said to practice polygyny, then the saints were to practice polygyny despite what other prophets (Jacob) had said. The evidence suggests that such was a shift in practice.

If a central purpose of polygamy was to bring people into Smith’s sacerdotal family,[25] then composite marriage, in which women could also marry multiple men, would work better for that purpose than would polygyny, because it allowed for more people to be connected to each other. The Bennett and Orson Pratt disasters of the summer of 1842 caused a change in the program, which resulted in a switch to younger, single women. Yet Heber C. Kimball still sought to be bound to Smith by having Smith marry his daughter. Polygynous linking was more limited, however, since it was only possible with those who had unmarried daughters and it also led Smith to marry younger wives, very young in the case of Helen Mar Kimball.

[1] Quoted in Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 122-23.

[2] Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 81, 179.

[3] Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 7.2 in The Genuine Works of Flavius Josephus, trans. by William Whiston, 6 vols. (Worcester Mass.: Isaiah Thomas, 1794), 104.

[4] Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner, Autobiography, typescript, 9, Perry Special Collections.

[5] “Letter from Gen. Bennett,” in Hawk Eye (Burlington, Iowa: December 7, 1843) in Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 636.

[6] Zimmerman, I Knew the Prophets, 47.

[7] Smith, sermon, July 16, 1843, Words of Joseph Smith, 232.

[8] Early Mormon Blessings, 328.

[9] Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball An Apostle: The Father and Founder of the British Mission (1888, reprint; Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1967), 323-24.

[10] Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 495.

[11] Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball, 328.

[12] Hellen Mar Kimball Whitney, Autobiography, 1881, in Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, A Woman?s View: Helen Mar Whitney?s Reminiscences of Early Church History, ed. Jeni Broberg Holzapfel and Richard Neitzel Holzapfel (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University 1997), 482.

[13] Whitney, Autobiography, 482.

[14] Wilhelm Wyl, Joseph the Prophet: His Family and Friends (Salt Lake City: Tribune, 1886), 71-72.

[15] Sarah Pratt, to whom Smith also may have proposed (discussed below), had become disaffected by this time and made a number of charges against Smith in Wyl’s book (Wyl, Joseph the Prophet, 56, 60-62.) Wyl did not cite Pratt for the accusation that Helen was a replacement for her mother, but Helen apparently assumed the Pratt was the source of the accusation.

[16] Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, A Widow’s Tale: the 1884-1896 Diary of Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, ed. Charles M. Hatch and Todd M. Compton (Logan: Utah State University Press, 2003), 183, Aug. 26, 1886.

[17] Jedediah Grant, February 19, 1854, Journal of Discourses, 2:13.

[18] Richard S. Van Wagoner, “Sarah M. Pratt: The Shaping of an Apostate,” Dialogue 19, no. 2 (1986): 69-99.

[19] Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, 466-72.

[20] Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 4-6.

[21] Van Wagoner, “Sarah M. Pratt,” 81.

[22] Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 6.

[23] ?Celestial Marriage,? 7.

[24] Jacob 2:23, 24, 27. Richard Bushman notes that Jacob only condemns David and Solomon?s polygyny and notes that Deuteronomy 17:17 condemns excessive polygyny like David and Solomon?s, perhaps leaving Abraham, Jacob, and Moses uncondemned for their more moderate polygyny, and that those three figures may have fallen under the exemption. Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, 646 n. 27. But again, the passage?s exemption used the phrase ?raise up seed,? suggesting that the exemption may have related to sharing wives.

[25] Brown, ?Early Mormon Adoption Theology,? 38-39.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. I’ve always found the story about Joseph testing my great grandparent heartbreaking. As Brian Hales points out, it is likely just lore. I’m not aware of any stories like it. Joseph otherwise always took the wife. The sole source of this fanciful story comes from a nephew who would have been eight at the time. Thanks Brian Hales for making this clear.

    My Kimball family is full of fanciful lore that likely never happened though the story of my great Aunt Helen Mar being traded off to Joseph Smith is heartbreaking and true. I was talking to independent researcher Joseph Johnstun who lives in the Nauvoo area and he said he has found evidence for Joseph’s third fourteen year old wife. This story never gets better.

    Comment by Tom Kimball — May 14, 2015 @ 9:02 am

  2. What’s clear is that Joseph Smith first married married women (1838-1842) and then shifted to younger single women/girls in 1843. So asking for Vilate in 1842 and then marrying Helen in 1843 fits this pattern. As I note, asking for a wife only as a test does not fit the pattern, but people refusing such requests does (Sarah Kimball etc). So I find it more likely that Heber actually refused to share Vilate and essentially offered Helen as a substitute like Wyl asserted. That fits the pattern.

    My argument is that the shift to younger, single wives was a result of Smith’s inner circle refusing to share wives (“what a howling there was in Israel”) and that Kimball story illustrates this shift.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — May 14, 2015 @ 9:25 am

  3. Steve, As you know, Joseph’s first reported Nauvoo plural wife was Louisa Beaman, a previously never-married woman. He then switched to married women; then back to previously never-married women. Why do you think he started with an unmarried woman, then changed to married women?

    Comment by Gary Bergera — May 14, 2015 @ 11:30 am

  4. Steve, any thoughts on Jane Law. Two sources say Joseph made advances on her. One places it around the first of November of 1843 (about the same time as Emma’s poisoning attempt on Joseph), the other is from a May 1844 diary entry that says simply “He lately endeavored to seduce my wife,” offering a vague time period.

    This seems an anomaly to your thesis. Terrific reading! I look forward to future posts about your dissertation.

    Comment by Tom Kimball — May 14, 2015 @ 11:51 am

  5. Good point Gary, I was overgeneralizing somewhat. I’d note that JS’s first wife after after Fanny Alger was Luncida Morgan Harris (c 1838) who was married. Then Beaman. So he began marrying married women before Beaman. I interpret Beaman in the light of Bennett’s statement about JS’s proposal to Nancy Rigdon: it “would not prevent her from marrying any other person.” So Smith’s proposal to Nancy (a single woman) had that additional allowance, and in my dissertation, I wonder if Beaman might have had that allowance well but that she just didn’t remarry. Also Hannah Dubois probably married Philo Dibble after she married Smith.

    I go so far as to wonder if Fanny Alger also had that allowance. Though she married another man in 1836, Benjamin Johnson later claimed, “She did not turn from the Church nor from her friendship for the Prophet while she lived.” That marriage may not have been a rejection of Smith and the church, but may have been allowed by him. (A late reminiscence, but still an interesting claim in the context of this broader pattern.)

    Comment by Steve Fleming — May 14, 2015 @ 11:58 am

  6. Tom, good question and I have to admit that while very intriguing, I wasn’t able to sort out the Laws in all this. There’s also some claims about Emma being offered to Law, if I recall. I’ll need to take a closer look and then take another stab at it. So, yeah, all very interesting, but also confusing. My sense at this point is that certain aspects of the old system (shared wives) may have persisted into 1843 and later. Who knows?

    Comment by Steve Fleming — May 14, 2015 @ 12:05 pm

  7. Great post Steve. A few comments. (Since there’s no html tags I’m prefacing the stuff I quote from with ***)

    *** The sexuality of Smith?s marriages has been much debated, but boiling Smith?s marital relationships down to sex misses the point. ***

    Well, if the point is to understand marriage from a theological point of view. I think sex & power issues are _entirely_ the point from a more ethical point of view. That is even if one develops a less controversial view of marriage how men conducted themselves within that theology seems unambiguously unethical to modern ears. I think there’s often a problem presentism projected back though. And I frequently raise that problem. (Talk about Nauvoo all we want but it’s a utopia compared to the Palestine of Jesus’ life. We shouldn’t have double standards yet we do, due to the relative recent nature of Nauvoo and it’s geographic proximity to us.)

    *** The point of the marriages, again, was best described by Mary Lightner, both in her description of the 1831 ?sealing? and in the proposal to her by Smith: to be united with Smith so as to go with him into the Father?s kingdom. ***

    I think what needs worked out still theologically is why this was the case rather than the later innovations where sealings were more mediated. i.e. why should the woman be sealed to Joseph rather than her husband sealed to Joseph via adoption? Why is one better than the other? Why would parents think that a daughter being sealed somehow seals them (the opposite of later practice) Theologically that shift took place in Utah although arguably the roots were earlier in Nauvoo.

    It might just be confusion, much like there was chaos with the initial practice of work for the dead versus the more organized practices. I suspect there’s something else to it and I think in particular the notion of dynastic marriages Compton hypothesizes is interesting here. It’s hard to avoid the temptation to read European kingship and nobel dynastic practices back into Nauvoo.

    *** While the proposal fits the pattern, Smith telling his married wives that his proposal was just a test does not; Smith married a number of married women. ***

    Does anyone have a theory on why this was? Why does it appear that some saw it as a test and others he went through with? (I confess I’ve not yet read Hale – hopefully next week) The issue of wives/daughters you raise is quite interesting for attempting to figure out what ideas were going around. I suspect you’re right that reaction to Bennett and company is a major factor in all this. Although it avoids the central question of why Joseph didn’t think up these alternatives earlier. Likewise why he had to do it at this early date. (The shift from wives to daughters makes sense but raises even more questions)

    *** If a central purpose of polygamy was to bring people into Smith?s sacerdotal family,[25] then composite marriage, in which women could also marry multiple men, would work better for that purpose than would polygyny, because it allowed for more people to be connected to each other. ***

    And yet the most obvious alternative: adoption as children doesn’t appear to have been developed as well.

    Comment by Clark — May 14, 2015 @ 12:17 pm

  8. “Well, if the point is to understand marriage from a theological point of view. I think sex & power issues are _entirely_ the point from a more ethical point of view.”
    Keep in my that my focus for this dissertation was not theological but historical and while it’s totally understandable to focus on the issue of sex, that issue can, and often does, overshadow everything else. For the diss, I sort of wanted to table that issue for a bit and explore other themes.

    “why should the woman be sealed to Joseph rather than her husband sealed to Joseph via adoption?”
    Again, my question wasn’t what Joseph Smith SHOULD have done, but instead what he DID do and why. All I could find was that there were no “adoptions” in the sealing sense and no sealings between persons of the same gender. Smith said that when parents were sealed, it would apply to their righteous children: “A measure of this sealing is to confirm upon their head in common with Elijah the doctrine of election or the covenant with Abraham-which which when a Father & mother of a family have entered into their children who have not transgressed are secured by the seal wherewith the Parents have been sealed.” (August 13, 1843, Words of Joseph Smith, 241.)

    “Why does it appear that some saw it as a test and others he went through with?” My guess is that the claim that it was just a test was invented later. That is, Kimball family lore that was passed on to Orson Whitney didn’t want to present Heber as rejecting JS (which is what he probably did: “what a howling there was in Israel”), so the memory was reworked to present Heber as always being faithful (it was just a test). (Also it’s hard to know exactly what Vilate’s reaction would have been, but that’s obviously a big factor).

    “And yet the most obvious alternative: adoption as children doesn’t appear to have been developed as well.” Right. Again, that doesn’t seem to have been something that JS did. I was comparing systems that he actually engaged in.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — May 14, 2015 @ 2:03 pm

  9. Oh, fully agree there’s nothing wrong with narrower focuses. I, like I suspect many, get tired of the more political/ethical topics. And in history I’m not sure the focus on 21st century ethical judgments of the past is necessarily healthy myopia.

    To the other point perhaps “should” wasn’t the best word choice. I think you’ve really highlighted some interesting possibilities for Joseph. However they just seem to raise as many questions as they answer. The problem of adoptions seems a big issue for a variety of reasons. While clearly we only know what Joseph actually did it just seems very weird that these alternatives weren’t considered. The fact they weren’t provides reasons to think that we can’t downplay the sex aspect as much as some of us might wish.

    Comment by Clark — May 14, 2015 @ 2:39 pm

  10. Good points, Clark. All this, no doubt, raises a multitude of questions.

    One of the most interesting sealing acts was John Bernheisel, who, though not married himself, had JS seal him to a series of dead female relatives and acquaintances in October 1843: a sister, four aunts, two cousins, a sister-in-law, a “distant relative,” and two “intimate friends.” All dead, all women. To me this really suggested that for JS, sealings had to be between men and women. The way to seal yourself to your brother, was to be sealed to his wife (the sister-in-law).

    Not surprisingly, lots of people (including JS’s inner circle) balked at this. Again, the howling thing.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — May 14, 2015 @ 3:45 pm

  11. Steve, I have a dim recollection of some sort of urban legend to the effect that Vilate had such a violent reaction when she found out about Heber’s offer, that she put her hand through a glass window and seriously injured herself (or something to that effect). Does this sound at all familiar, or is my brain playing tricks on me?

    Comment by JimD — May 14, 2015 @ 4:05 pm

  12. Jim, that story was in reference to John Taylor’s wife Leonora. It also comes from Wilhelm Wyl and is kind of interesting, so I’ll quote it:
    “Mrs. Leonora Taylor, first and legal wife of the present head of the church, and aunt of George Q. Cannon, told ladies who still reside in this city, that all the wives of the twelve were, in fact, consecrated to the Lord, that is, to his servant, Joseph; and that Joseph’s demands, and her husband’s soft compliance so exasperated her as to cause her ‘the loss of a finger and of a baby.’ The latter she lost by a premature delivery, being at the time in a delicate condition, and in her fury for help, having thrust her clenched fist through a window-pane, lost one of her fingers. Her honor was saved from the attack of Don Juan.”

    It’s right after that story that Wyl then claimed that Helen was a substitution for Vilate. Helen said that Vilate was upset by Helen’s marriage to JS, but I’m not aware of any statements regarding Vilate’s reaction to JS’s proposal to her.

    After Taylor’s death, George Q. Cannon and Wilford Woodruff both claimed that JS had asked for Leonora and that Taylor had agreed but that it was just a test.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — May 14, 2015 @ 4:25 pm

  13. Wow. I didn’t know about that. That’s quite interesting. The weird thing about this is of course Joseph’s comments on the Elijah passage from Malachi. The August 13, 1843 sermon at the temple site for instance emphasizes covenants of fathers to children and vice versa in some accounts. Now that’s not quite unambiguously adoption but it suggests that sealing of children to parents was something he was thinking about.

    Perhaps he just didn’t consider adoption though. Although that would be odd considering his adoption of the Murdock children. You’d think he already would have had in mind the issue of children who aren’t yours by birth.

    Comment by Clark — May 14, 2015 @ 4:28 pm

  14. Clark, I interpret JS’s August 1843 statement on parents being sealed to children (in comment 8) to mean that if parents are sealed to each other, then their children, if they are righteous, will be sealed to their parents. That is, the parents sealing was the ordinance that sealed their children to them. Perhaps adopted children would fall under the same category.

    But it seems to me that non-children were in a different category.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — May 14, 2015 @ 7:35 pm

  15. How do you think D&C 132 fits together with all of this? Do you think *that specific revelation* was a later development of the idea and only the concepts go back to the early 1830’s (not the revelation in its current form?)

    Comment by Cm — May 14, 2015 @ 8:17 pm

  16. Right, it was the reference from your (8) that made me think of that. I just have a hard time reconciling the Murdock children who were adopted by Joseph and Emma with not paying attention to adoption in that. Of course just because something seems an obvious corollary to us doesn’t mean it was to them. Still something seems missing.

    Comment by Clark — May 14, 2015 @ 8:57 pm

  17. Cm, I argue that DC 132, coming in July 1843, was a change in policy from shared marriages to polygyny. I argue in my dissertation that idea of shared marriages (or what I call composite marriage where both men and women could have multiple spouses) is hinted at in Jacob 2:30.
    Here’s a few posts.

    Clark, no doubt there were a lot of possibilities but adopting a child is a little different than adopting a friend.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — May 14, 2015 @ 9:49 pm

  18. Yes, but by the same measure marrying your childhood sweetheart is different than marrying your friend’s wife too. Plus the adoption view developed in the early Utah period and ended up becoming the dominant view. Don’t know the time frame on that though – and interestingly it seems that gaps in the sealing for adoption are not done in temple work but left of the millennium.

    Comment by Clark — May 15, 2015 @ 12:07 pm

  19. I think adoptive rituals were performed in the Nauvoo temple, not long after JS’s death, so it picked up pretty quickly.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — May 15, 2015 @ 1:55 pm

  20. I’m highlighting my ignorance of the overall papers on the subject. I can’t find much on the topic outside of Ehat. I’m sure there is – do you know some good papers?

    Ehat’s old thesis (which I know is now very dated) ties adoption to the patriarchal order and 1843. Ehat’s theory of the patriarchal order isn’t nearly as embraced now as it was in the early 90’s of course. (See pages 115 or so in his thesis)

    Ehat has Brigham doing 71 sealings of children, 130 adopts, and 591 second anointings (page 198) all in Dec 1845.

    Comment by Clark — May 15, 2015 @ 2:27 pm

  21. The best are probably Sam Brown’s and Jonathan Stapley’s articles in JMH 37, no. 2 (2011).

    Comment by Steve Fleming — May 15, 2015 @ 2:54 pm

  22. I’m a little late to the party, here. Steve, I point to this part of your diss in my MHA paper, which riffs on my adoption paper and a forthcoming study of Mormon women and authority, to try to contextualize the various non-nuclear family sealing practice. Child-to-parent sealings (including adoptions) were the only rituals to ever only be performed in the temple. I still haven’t figured out why that is. BY said it was because they were the highest rituals.

    Clark, that adoption paper is available here:


    Comment by J. Stapley — May 15, 2015 @ 2:57 pm

  23. I look forward to hearing your paper, J (hopefully it isn’t at the same time as mine. It seems like most of the JI people were scheduled during the same slot).

    “Child-to-parent sealings (including adoptions) were the only rituals to ever only be performed in the temple.” Could you clarify?

    And thanks for posting the link.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — May 15, 2015 @ 4:17 pm

  24. Yeah, my construction there wasn’t very clear. All of the rituals within the temple liturgy were performed outside the temple (in Nauvoo, on the trail West, in Council House and Endeowment House, in the various stakes, etc) except for child-to-parent sealings (including adoption). Those particular sealings were strictly reserved to the temples in Nauvoo and Utah.

    Comment by J. Stapley — May 15, 2015 @ 5:06 pm

  25. Thanks for the explanation, J. That’s really interesting.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — May 15, 2015 @ 5:58 pm

  26. Thanks Jonathan, that’s really helpful. Saved me a bunch of searching. (I’d not really thought much about this until Steve’s post)

    Comment by Clark — May 15, 2015 @ 8:32 pm

  27. Good stuff, Steve. Thanks.

    Comment by WVS — May 16, 2015 @ 12:06 am

  28. Thanks, WVS.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — May 16, 2015 @ 1:17 pm

  29. Steve, for anyone else looking the reference for Sam Brown is
    Vol. 37, No. 3


    Comment by Clark — May 17, 2015 @ 7:47 pm

  30. there was quaking (but there was probably some howling along with it)

    Great post, Steve.

    I think this does make the story better. And it seems to me that this is the usual result when we dig deeper into the history instead of making assumptions.

    Comment by Mark Ashurst-McGee — May 19, 2015 @ 7:55 pm

  31. Oops, shooting from the hip there. Thanks for the correction and the comments, Mark.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — May 19, 2015 @ 9:47 pm


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