There are 24 thoughts on “Big Trouble in River City: American Crucifixion and the Defaming of Joseph Smith”.

  1. Hi Mark,

    I can understand your reluctance to accept the Woodward account, but would encourage you to be just as discerning regarding any antagonistic account you may accept as valid regarding Joseph and plural marriage. My experience is that there is an imbalance in some people’s willingness to accept dubious negative accounts, but demand pristine supportive narratives.

    Regarding Emma, there is additional evidence that she accepted the principle. She gave Joseph four plural wives. That is, she actively participated in his plural sealings to the Partridge sisters and the Lawrence sisters. Emily Partridge recalled: “I was married to him [Joseph Smith] on the eleventh of May, 1843, by Elder James Adams. Emma was present. She gave her free and full consent.” Nauvoo Church member Mary Ann West testified in 1892 that Emma sent for Hyrum to perform the plural sealings for Joseph: “I remember of his [Hyrum’s] being there [at Mary Ann’s house] several times, – for I remember distinctly… of his being there one time when he told us that Emma had come over to plural marriage. He told us that and said that she had sent for him to come and seal women to Joseph and he had done so.” Lucy Walker recalled: “I am also able to testify that Emma Smith, the prophet’s first wife, gave her consent to the marriage of at least four other girls to her husband, and that she was well aware that he associated with them as wives within the meaning of all that word implies. This is proven by the fact that she herself, on several occasions, kept guard at the door to prevent disinterested persons from intruding when these ladies were in the house.” William Clayton also remembered: “During this period [1843] the Prophet Joseph took several other wives. Amongst the number I well remember Eliza Partridge, Emily Partridge, Sarah Ann Whitney, Helen Kimball and Flora Woodworth. These all, he acknowledged to me, were his lawful, wedded wives, according to the celestial order. His wife Emma was cognizant of the fact of some, if not all, of these being his wives, and she generally treated them very kindly.” On October 19th, 1843, Clayton recorded in his journal: “He [Joseph Smith] began to tell me that Emma was turned quite friendly and kind.” She was even willing to provide counsel for William regarding Margaret, his plural wife, who was pregnant. “He [Joseph] said that it was her [Emma’s] advice that I should keep Margaret at home.”

    I appreciate you speculating regarding what Joseph and Emma might have done. I just hope that no one criticizes Joseph Smith based upon their assumptions. That is where (in my opinion) the problems begin. People love to assume the worst and then judge the Prophet based upon those assumptions. It happens over and over and not just with polygamy. (Think Book of Abraham, treasure digging, the Book of Mormon translation, the First Vision accounts etc.)

    You are not alone in condemning Joseph’s plural marriages that occurred without Emma’s knowledge. As I’ve said, I believe he waited because he knew if she rejected it, she would become the transgressor (D&C 132:65). I think the angel commanded it because Emma had rejected plural marriage in Kirtland and the Prophet’s days on earth were short. After his first polygamous union in Nauvoo, he only lived 3 ½ years. If he had waited for Emma, who knows if it would have been established at all.

    That said, there doesn’t seem to be much to say except maybe what Isaiah wrote: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9). I don’t know why God in the 1840s commanded Joseph and then the rest of the Latter-day Saints to practice polygamy. I’m only glad He revoked the commandment in 1890.

    God Bless,


    • Hi Brian,

      I respect your position on this, even though we may disagree about the extent of Joseph Smith’s “flaws”, and I agree that there should be a better balance on how we evaluate and weigh evidence.

      That said, I don’t understand why Joseph secretly kept the practice from Emma so she wouldn’t be “condemned” when she clearly fought against the practice and in the end would be considered “condemned” anyway. Also, I don’t believe an angel from God would have commanded Joseph to keep something like that secret from Emma.

      Regardless of our disagreement and my struggles with issues such as this, I still find a way to maintain activity in the LDS church. I do see keeping my faith overall as a positive thing for me.

      May God bless you as well,


  2. Brian,

    You stated:
    “There is a theory in polemics that if you throw enough mud at the wall, some of it will eventually stick. Antagonists have been winning this battle by making undocumentable claims of immorality against Joseph Smith. Those who wish to call Joseph a womanizer or adulterer or immoral, would strengthen their positions by providing some credible evidence to support it. Unfortunately, however, people judge Joseph Smith based upon their assumptions and hence he is so easily labelled as immoral etc.”

    I agree, that some critics have thrown mud to try and get things to “stick” on Joseph Smith. However, there is a difference between throwing mud and just pointing out the mud that a person placed through their own actions. Joseph Smith has some mud that he placed there through his own actions. He kept sexual relations with another woman secret from his wife. So at least some of the mud was not thrown, it was already there and some people are just pointing it out.

    • Hi Mark,

      I think you hit on an important point. Clearly, Joseph’s plural marriages, those which occurred before Emma became aware, are difficult to understand and explain.

      However, I see several evidences that Joseph did not wish to practice plural marriage after Nauvoo, in part, because he knew it would hurt Emma. For example, he received the sealing authority on April 3, 1836, but did not use it until 1841. Richard L. Bushman noted: “After this one unsuccessful attempt” of polygamous marriage with Fanny Alger, Joseph Smith “waited another five years. The delay showed an uncharacteristic reluctance, hard for one who feared God… surely he realized that plural marriage would inflict terrible damage, that he ran the risk of wrecking his marriage and alienating his followers.”

      But even in 1841, he first married one woman (Louisa Beaman) for “time and eternity” (with sexuality) and then went on a string of proposals to married women, which I affirm were nonsexual “eternity only” sealings. I’ve been criticized relentlessly for this interpretation, but to date, no one has provided any evidence that it is inaccurate. Joseph taught that a “plurality of husbands” was “adultery and the woman should be destroyed” (D&C 132:63). He didn’t practice it and would never have tolerated it.

      Why is this important? Because I believe Joseph sought to satisfy the angel with “eternity only” plurality that would be less bothersome to Emma because they are without sexual relations. Only after the third angelic visitation in February of 1842 did Joseph propose to additional unmarried women, with sexuality being documented in some of those plural marriages afterwards.

      It is also important to observe that Emma stayed true to Joseph. I sometimes puzzle when observers, 170 years after the fact, seem more bothered by what they perceive to have occurred, than those who were there.

      The day after overhearing a quarrel between Joseph and Emma, domestic Mary Jane Woodward, recalled:

      “[Emma] told me to sit down on the bed by her and we both sat down on the bed that I was making. She looked very sad and cast down, and there she said to me, ‘The principle of plural marriage is right, but I am like other women, I am naturally jealous hearted and can talk back to Joseph as long as any wife can talk back to her husband, but what I want to say to you is this. You heard me finding fault with the principle. I want to say that that principle is right, it is from our Father in Heaven,’ and then she again spoke of her jealousy.

      “Then she added: ‘What I said I have got to repent of. The principle is right but I am jealous hearted. Now never tell anybody that you heard me find fault with Joseph or that principle. The principle is right and if I or you or anyone else find fault with that principle we have got to humble ourselves and repent of it.’”

      If Emma could accept Joseph’s teachings and behaviors, perhaps we should be less quick to judge?


      Brian Hales

      • Hi Brian,

        Thanks for the response, although I do see things differently than you on this, which is fine. I honestly appreciate the research you and Don Bradley have completed on this subject.

        However, I see Joseph’s reluctance as the result of Joseph asking for Emma’s forgiveness when she found out about his early polygamous practice and perhaps he promised to discontinue the practice in an effort for reconciliation, which as you pointed out he did for 5 years. Such a reconciliation could have helped to appease Emma to stay with Joseph. I think Emma was quite willing to forgive, loved Joseph, and wanted to keep their family together. I see it as evidence of her strong commitment to family and not necessarily as an acceptance of polygamy.

        There are many wives who have forgiven husbands and stayed true to them even after affairs or abuse. The fact that Emma stayed true to Joseph does not prove she agreed with the practice of polygamy and it definitely doesn’t prove she agreed with Joseph’s behaviors regarding his polygamous marriages. So, I don’t see how you could conclude that it does.

        I do have a hard time accepting a second-hand account given years after (I think Woodward made her statement around 1902, some 60 years after the fact), and I think it is something you have criticized others for using to make their arguments; particularly, when the account tends to contradict Emma’s history of being against polygamy.

        Perhaps Joseph had temporarily convinced Emma to agree that “eternity only” sealings were right and that is what her discussion with Woodward was about. We don’t have the entire context of the discussion and whether Woodward’s memory was able to accurately recall the discussion. What we do know is how Emma consistently responded to Joseph’s practice of polygamy and it was definitely not in favor of it.

        Repeating what I stated earlier, hiding a sexual relationship from your wife is just not OK in any circumstance; it doesn’t matter if you secretly married this other person or not. Hiding the fact that you married someone else from your first wife while you are still married to her is bad enough on its own.

        Doctrine and Covenants 132 often refers to Abraham as an important example in the revelation of polygamy and its purposes. Yet, Abraham did not keep his relationship with Hagar secret from his wife. In fact, Abraham’s wife is the one who offered Hagar to Abraham.

        If someone truly believes in God’s commandment to be honest and also claims that God commanded them to practice polygamy, they should just follow both of God’s commands and let the consequences follow.

  3. I think it is helpful to remember that there was “spiritual wifery” being practiced in Nauvoo by John C. Bennett and a long list of others, possibly including William Law, William Smith, and Vinson Knight. Spiritual wifery meant “I can have sex with anyone I want, as long as no one knows it is happening.” So statements regarding Don Carlos or Emma raging against spiritual wifery are completely credible. These statements wouldn’t mean Don Carlos or Emma were objecting to what Joseph was teaching.

    Plural marriage meant “A man can covenant with more than one woman. Whether we have sex or not is none of anyone else’s business.” And I assert for Joseph, he simply didn’t have sex in his plural marriages. Somewhat of a blow to the image of the ladies with whom he covenanted, which is why I think we see some of them imply something had happened.

    Lastly, much is made of how Eliza was never pregnant and didn’t have sex with Joseph. I’ll grant that she didn’t have sex with Joseph. But by claiming Eliza wasn’t ever pregnant, the authors of this article rely heavily on a secondary source, without considering Eliza’s own writings, where she described herself as:

    “Thrown side by side and face to face with that
    Foul hearted spirit, blacker than the soul
    Of midnight’s darkest shade, the traitor,
    The vile wretch that feeds his sordid selfishness
    Upon the peace and blood of innocence–
    The faithless, rottenhearted wretch, whose tongue
    Speaks words of trust and fond fidelity,
    While treach’ry, like a viper, coils behind
    The smile that dances in his evil eye.”

    While in this poem Eliza doesn’t explicitly say, “I was seduced by John C. Bennett” I find it fascinating that no one appears to have examined this poem in that light. The poem was written in November 1842 along with three other poems which speak of death, repentance, and solitude.

    Avery, Newell, and Beecher’s assertion that Eliza was never pregnant is based on the idea that the reputed loss of Eliza’s child would have occurred in February 1843 in either the Mansion House or the Homestead. But if the staircase in question was at the Red Brick Store and if the miscarriage occurred in November 1842, then all modern objections to Eliza’s reputed pregnancy and miscarriage are null and void.

    • Hi again,

      The historical record shows that Joseph taught plural marriage secretly in Nauvoo starting in late 1840 or early 1841. However, by the end of 1842, only three authorized polygamists existed in Nauvoo, Joseph, Heber, and Brigham Young. Vinson Knight had married prior to his death in the summer. There were dozens who knew of this secret teaching, but John C. Bennett was not one of them. He admitted in October of 1843 that he never learned of eternal marriage in Nauvoo and Joseph never taught plural marriage without teaching eternal marriage. Bennett starting seducing women shortly after arriving in Nauvoo. He was an adulterer prior to arriving there and simply continued his debaucheries.

      A potential problem with Meg’s reconstruction is she seems to conflate the two processes. She assumes that if someone heard of Bennett’s immoralities, they also knew of Joseph Smith’s plural marriage teachings. This assumption requires documentation. We remember that Joseph’s closest acquaintances, his wife, William Law, and Hyrum Smith did not learn of plural marriage until 1843. Hence, to assume a widespread knowledged of Joseph’s private teachings prior to that time requires supportive evidence.

      It is sad that anyone would associate Vinson Knight with Bennett. This is spin, troublesome and without support.

      What is worse is to assume that Bennett seduced Eliza R. Snow. Meg Stout has promoted this interpretation and apparently continues to do, which is unfortunate for all readers. The poem is completely ambiguous.

      Meg’s idea that Emma flung Eliza down the stairs at the Red Brick Store is equally problematic. We might as well say it occurred in a stairwell in the unfinished temple or in any two story home in Nauvoo. The details do not line up, and the supportive documentation, if there is any, is ambiguous at best.

      I would hope Meg would desist from telling these stories that portray Vinson Knight and Eliza R. Snow negatively.

      The feelings I express here are not surprising to Meg; I’ve encouraged her in private emails in the past.



      • Hi Brian,

        I don’t know why you think I’m conflating knowledge of Joseph’s teaching with awareness of Bennett’s spiritual wifery.

        Certainly there were those on the periphery who never realized they weren’t one and the same, such as Orange Wight.

        I had corresponded with Ugo, summarizing my understanding in the following terms:

        “I am interested to find out if you have anything published on the research you were doing into the paternity of Josephine Lyon.

        At one point in my browsing, I thought I’d come across an account explaining that the results looked odd. While some markers seemed to indicate Josephine might be descended from Joseph, the data was sufficiently unusual that you examined the ancestors of her modern-day descendants.

        As I recall, you found that Josephine’s descendants have common ancestors with Joseph Smith, independent of whether Joseph fathered Josephine.”

        Ugo replied that “Your understanding of the current Josephine DNA testing and alleged paternity is quite good.” and pointed me to the chapter he wrote for “The Persistence of Polygamy.”

        I overstated when I say that the DNA shows Josephine couldn’t have been Joseph’s child, just that the DNA evidence was so odd that Ugo ended up looking to other possible causes for what he was seeing, and thus showed that there were parallel lines of relationship between Joseph Smith and Josephine’s descendants that would support the findings irrespective of Joseph actually being related to Josephine.

        While I admit Malissa Lott and Emily Partridge certainly said things that lead one to presume they were intimate with Joseph, their explanation for why these intimacies didn’t result in pregnancy fail to jibe with female physiology, as does Todd Akins presumption that the mental distress associated with rape somehow “shuts down” conception.

        Ironically, it was your continued resistance to the idea that Eliza could have been pregnant that lead me to the November poems. And along that line we have Eliza’s modification of her poem titled Conjugal, which really should be studied by someone.

        As for asserting that William Smith and William Law and Vinson Knight may have been involved in spiritual wifery, we have the testimony of Catherine (Laur) Fuller Warren to the Nauvoo High Council in 1842 identifying William Smith as having attempted to get her to lay with him. For William Law, we have the multiple records saying Law was guilty of adultery, and that this is why he was not permitted to enter into the New and Everlasting Covenant (Alexander Neibaur, May 24, 1844, journal entry. Also corroborated by William Clayton, June 12, 1844, journal entry and Hyrum Smith, June 17, 1844, Nauvoo Neighbor. Though these three accounts are recorded in 1844, the wording in each is consistent with the possibility that Joseph’s inquiry of the Lord regarding William Law occurred in fall 1843). For Vinson Knight, we have the journal of William Clayton documenting a conversation with Joseph saying Vinson had gone “to loose conduct” and that Joseph hadn’t been able to save him. For Vinson we also have the fact that his wife was not sealed to him in the temple, nor was the widow Merrick sealed to him in the temple.

        I don’t say that Bishop Knight was necessarily aware he was in error. I think that many of the men Bennett led into practicing spiritual wifery were convinced it was right, just as many of the women had been convinced it was right (which is why they allowed themselves to be seduced).

        As for William Law, he led the conspiracy to kill Joseph, getting hundreds of others to swear to kill Joseph, so I’m not too sympathetic toward him.

        As for the story about Eliza, I think you are seeing it from the standpoint of a man who honors Eliza and doesn’t want anything to mar her memory. But Eliza in Nauvoo was just a spinster who produced doggeral (I think that was John Taylor’s term). At that point in her life she wasn’t any more special than Phebe Wheeler, the other Relief Society secretary. Something transformed her, and I don’t think it was sneaking around behind Emma’s back with Joseph (as portrayed by some historians, particularly Avery and Tippetts).

    • I will be the first to admit that I am certainly not an expert on analyzing the meaning behind different kinds of poetry but I absolutely cannot see any connection between the poem and a supposed seduction of Eliza R. Snow by John C. Bennett.

      There is no primary evidence and there isn’t even any legitimate secondary evidence to such a scenario. Furthermore, lacking any real evidence, the fact that in November 1842 Eliza R. Snow wrote “three other poems which speak of death, repentance, and solitude” is rather poor evidence of some kind of illicit affair.

      • Hi Craig,

        I think Leroi Snow did a pretty good job of assembling the various stories that appeared to show Eliza might have been pregnant and lost a child.

        The article by Avery, Tippetts, and Beecher debunks the idea that Eliza was pregnant by presuming that the alleged miscarriage occurred in February 1843. If you re-read their article with the idea that the miscarriage might have happened in November 1842, you’ll find that their objections to the story are no longer valid.

        Finally, Eliza’s poem “Conjugal” appears to have been modified to change the poem from something describing a man’s eternal sealing and reunion with a deceased wife to a poem celebrating the prospective union of two friends. From the journal of Joseph Kingsbury, we know that in those early days Joseph would promise a widower he could be reunited with his beloved departed for performing some extraordinary act related to plural marriage. In Joseph Kingsbury’s case, it was agreeing to be a public husband for Sarah Whitney.

        What would have been a reason for Jonathan Holmes to be promised reunion with his martyred wife in 1842? And why would Eliza have been aware of this fact? A possibility would be that Jonathan had been asked to be a public husband for Eliza. But if this was the case, why did the need for Eliza to have a public husband go away? And why did Eliza feel a need to so thoroughly deface her original poem (literally scraping the original word from the paper), when she only makes inline edits in the rest of her journal?

        Finally, there is an entire tapestry of history, across dozens of people, that leads me to suspect that most of the 1842 we think of as plural wives (including Sarah Peak Noon and Lucy Ann Decker) might have been women seduced by Bennett and his Strikers. Eliza’s June 1842 marriage to Joseph Smith doesn’t make sense in that tapestry as just the simple union of a spinster to the prophet.

        • Meg, I don’t even know where to begin. I have tried to be diplomatic in previous comments, making it clear that I don’t agree and pointing out problems with your theory. That obviously has not worked so I’m just going to say it straight out. I have read your theories regarding Joseph Smith, Eliza R. Snow and Joseph’s other plural wives like Emily Partridge and I find them to be without sufficient primary documentation, rather ridiculous in concept and, to be honest, offensive.

          I say this not “from the standpoint of a man who honors Eliza (or any of the other wives) and doesn’t want anything to mar her memory,” but as one who has looked at your argument and your documentation. You just do not have the proper sources/documentation to claim what you are. Your theory is based mostly on conjecture.

          Just a couple of comments. How you translate Eliza’s poems to say what you claim is beyond understanding. You suggest the poem you quoted is about Snow’s being seduced by Bennett. Why? Because she wrote,
          “side by side and face to face with that
          Foul hearted spirit, blacker than the soul
          Of midnight’s darkest shade, the traitor,
          The vile wretch that feeds his sordid selfishness”?
          I would suggest it talks about the lying deceptive spirit and influence of Satan more than being seduced by Bennett.

          You then suggest “Eliza’s poem “Conjugal” appears to have been modified to change the poem from something describing a man’s eternal sealing and reunion with a deceased wife to a poem celebrating the prospective union of two friends.” Perhaps it was a poem that was later modified and written as a marriage gift. That does not mean that Eliza, now freed of her unwanted baby Bennett then felt she could change the title and original intent, etc.

          We don’t know what inspired her to write either poem or to change original intent — if that is what she did. Have you ever written poetry? What inspired you? Did you actually experience everything about which you wrote? I know a member of the church who has, over the years, written poems about war and the evil pain of war, about gypsies, about child marriage, about being an orphan, about adultery, about divorce, about repentance, about death, about a number of different topics. That LDS poet has not experienced most of what they have written about. To suggest every poem reflects personal events in the poet’s life is silly. Furthermore, poets often will rewrite or change poems as their ideas or perhaps circumstances change. If Eliza did so, it does not automatically mean she was no longer pregnant and, therefore, felt free to change the intent of the poem.

          Regarding the testimonies of Emily Partridge, Malissa Lott, etc. I know from Emily Partridge’s affidavit that she was quite unhappy about being asked such a personal question as whether or not she had sexual relations with Joseph Smith. Why would she perjure herself if she really did not have sexual relations with Smith?

          Also, you wrote about Partridge and Lott, “their explanation for why these intimacies didn’t result in pregnancy fail to jibe with female physiology, as does Todd Akins presumption that the mental distress associated with rape somehow “shuts down” conception.” What explanations did these two women give regarding their having sex with Joseph Smith but not getting pregnant? I don’t remember reading anything from Emily Partridge about that. Are you suggesting they claimed rape and thus did not get pregnant? Otherwise, I really am not sure why you would allude to what Todd Akin said. I doubt you are suggesting rape but certainly you are not suggesting that every act of intercourse is going to end in pregnancy. If it was not the right time of the month for either Partridge or Lott they would not have been impregnated. That does not automatically mean negative evidence of a sexual relationship.

          Finally, I respect, even admire, many of Eliza R. Snow’s qualities and am troubled that her character continues to be besmirched without adequate evidence. If there is legitimate evidence then let the chips fall where they may. If there is not — and you have not yet produced legitimate primary evidence — then why make such proclamations? As for Emily Dow Partridge, I have studied her life to some significant degree. I am not descended from her but am closely associated with a number of her descendants. I am, in her and their behalf, extremely offended that you would attack, without any legitimate documentation, her character and her memory in order to further your hobby horse.

          Now I am sorry if I have come across too strong. I really do not want to appear rude nor do I want to offend you, Meg. But such baseless characterizations on your part are not only unhelpful to the study of this difficult topic, they are also offensive to some people.

          • Hi Craig,

            When Joseph’s sons wondered why there were no children if Joseph had been intimate with so many women other than their mother, Malissa suggested that she, for example, had been nervous, and that this nervousness had inhibited conception. If the terror associated with rape doesn’t inhibit conception, as Akins had suggested, then I don’t know why any modern person would accept that mere nervousness would inhibit conception.

            As for the poetry, I was intrigued by the reaction of my son-in-law, who is getting his MA in English at Marymount. He and my daughter have suffered long, being in the same household with me for these many years. And so when I asked him to read the poem in question, he initially did so reluctantly, merely to appease me. But as he read the poem, he began to exclaim about symbolism, personification, and something about new historicism.

            I hadn’t even twigged to the “side by side, face to face” line until he pointed it out to me.

            In new historicism, literature and it’s criticism is studied in light of the history of the author as well as the history of the critic(s). In light of the history and allegiances of past critics of Eliza’s poetry (who studies Eliza R. Snow except believing Mormons?) it isn’t surprising no one has previously noticed the potential implications of these November poems.

            It actually isn’t particularly vital to me whether I am right about Eliza’s 1842 experiences. I mainly commented because I disagree that we should conclude Joseph had sex with women when they and observers merely assert that they might have spent time in the same room, particularly if Mary Heron is one of those included in Joseph’s list of supposed conquests.

  4. It’s interesting that this review has just been done. I was given a pre-publication copy (thanks to a sister-in-law who works in a book store) of the book a few days ago and started reading it. So far, I am not impressed. I haven’t read this review yet, and I’ll probably wait until after I finish the book before I do.

  5. Craig Foster and Brian Hales have demonstrated in considerable detail that, whatever popularizing journalistic skills the author of American Crucifixion may have, his book does not beam brightly. He has, instead, assembled some old, outdated materials into something less than sound scholarship.

  6. Mr. Beam’s statement that Mitt Romney’s virtuous life as a husband and father evoked a negative reaction seems to be in harmony with the general Boston positive attitude to the adulterous escapades of the Kennedy family, who were repeatedly elected to Congress. I suspect it is not sexual immorality that bothers him as much as assertions of moral virtue.

    • Hi,

      I think it might be helpful to point out that claims by critics that Joseph was not morally virtuous lack documentation. Prior to John C. Bennett’s 1842 sensationalized claims, only two statements accusing Joseph Smith of sexual impropriety can be identified in the historical record. Only one of these was published, a May 1, 1834, report from Levi Lewis, Emma Smith’s cousin, who alleged that “he has `been acquainted with Joseph Smith Jr. and Martin Harris, and that he has heard them both say, adultery was no crime. Harris said he did not blame Smith for his (Smith’s) attempt to seduce Eliza Winters &c.;’. . . . `With regard to the plates, Smith said God had deceived him—which was the reason he (Smith) did not show them.’” This secondhand allegation is dubious in many ways and was never reprinted in publications throughout the 1830s, even by anti-Mormons, likely due to its obvious credibility problems.

      The second statement is comprised of a few words from an 1838 letter from Oliver Cowdery to his brother Warren. Ignoring the evidences that a priesthood ceremony was performed legitimizing Joseph Smith’s first plural marriage to a woman, Fanny Alger, in Kirtland, Ohio, Oliver, rejected its validity calling the relationship as a “dirty, nasty, filthy, scrape.”

      Despite the lack of credible contemporaneous evidence that Joseph Smith was accused of immorality during the 1820s and 1830s, multiple antagonistic sources have proclaimed that he then possessed a reputation as a womanizer and libertine. One prominent anti-Mormon publication alleged: “The charge of sexual immorality was probably one of the most frequent charges made against Joseph Smith.” Such statements are simply false from a documentary standpoint.

      There is a theory in polemics that if you throw enough mud at the wall, some of it will eventually stick. Antagonists have been winning this battle by making undocumentable claims of immorality against Joseph Smith. Those who wish to call Joseph a womanizer or adulterer or immoral, would strengthen their positions by providing some credible evidence to support it. Unfortunately, however, people judge Joseph Smith based upon their assumptions and hence he is so easily labelled as immoral etc.



    • Agreed
      I remember reading that Ted Kennedy attacked Romney about the status of women in the Church when Romney ran for Senator. While I believe in Freedom of Speech, I don’t think that Ted Kennedy was in a position to criticize how other men treat women.

  7. The reading audience should be made aware that Brian, at JWHA last year, acknowledged that JS had sexual relations with nine women not his wife. That removes the question from one of eternity to one of secrecy. The address by St. William in Nauvoo in the latter part of 1845 removed the official secrecy as WS said he practiced the doctrine openly whereas the rest of the 12 did it secretly. The crowd’s response is revealing.

    • Hi Jake,

      Actually at JWHA I acknowledged sexual relations in twelve of the plural marriages with ambiguous evidence in three more. These are discussed on our website:

      Multiplying and replenishing the earth was one of the four reasons listed in D&C 132 for establishing plural marriage. These are discussed here: .

      If you will read D&C 132, you will see that the most important reason listed does not require sexuality. Plural marriage allows all women to be sealed to an eternal spouse and to be candidates for exaltation (D&C 132: 16-17, 63). It isn’t my interpretation or my opinion, it is plainly taught in the revelation.

      Keep in mind that “eternity only” sealings have been documented in Nauvoo. They were non-sexual. Michael Quinn acknowledged this in his response to my 2012 MHA presentation: “Brian Hales has recently persuaded me that Joseph Smith was sealed during his lifetime to one already-married woman in a ceremony that she, her non-Mormon husband, and the Prophet all regarded as applying only to the eternities after mortal life. This was Ruth Vose Sayers, for whom there was no contemporary record of the ceremony’s wording. However, as Hales affirmed today and in his previous articles, in addition to a recently discovered narrative about this matter by Andrew Jenson, a document written by one of Joseph’s house-girls in late 1843 or early 1844 stated: ‘Joseph did not pick that woman. She went to see whether she should marry her husband for eternity.'”

      Joseph Smith’s plural marriage doctrine was not about sex, it was about eternity.



      • While Brian is willing to assert that twelve women other than Emma appear to have been intimate with Joseph, based on statements these women made, I remind individuals that there is no DNA evidence supporting any woman having been intimate with Joseph other than Emma. The analysis of Josephine Lyon’s DNA shows she wasn’t Joseph’s child, for example. Relatively few people understand autosomal DNA analysis, so people tend to lean on their interpretation of Sylvia Session [Lyon]’s deathbed statement to Josephine without understanding the alternate reason(s) for such a statement.

        The women who hinted they were intimate with Joseph had reasons for doing so that had nothing to do with whether or not they were actually intimate with Joseph.

        • Hi Meg,

          I’m not quite sure how to respond to a comment that alleges Joseph Smith did not have sexual relations with some of his plural wives for several reasons. First, “multiply and replenish the earth” is a plainly stated reason for the establishment of plural marriage from Joseph Smith’s revelation, now D&C 132:63.

          In addition, hen asked in 1892, “Did you ever have carnal intercourse with Joseph Smith?” Emily Partridge answered unambiguously: “Yes sir.” Similarly, Malissa Lott was asked: “Now at the times you roomed with him [Joseph Smith], did you cohabit with him as his wife?” She answered: “Yes sir.” The following year Joseph Smith III asked Malissa, “Was you a wife in very deed?” to which she answered: “Yes.” In addition there is other reliable evidence for ten more of his wives.

          Importantly Meg, you misquote the DNA evidence regarding Sylvia Session’s daughter Josephine . Ugo Perego wrote:

          “In light of the multiple familial relationships shared by both Josephine Lyons and Joseph Smith’s descendants, it is clear that a lot of “genealogical noise” is also present. This complicates any attempt to identify a clear and straightforward genetic signal from Joseph Smith in Josephine’s descendants. In other words, the challenge that researchers face is to be able to distinguish the genetic contribution by Joseph Smith in the purported paternity of Josephine, from all the other related Smiths who married ancestors of Josephine’s descendants before and after Joseph Smith’s time.”

          In other words, the evidence is not negative, it is inconclusive. This is important. There is, in fact, a genetic correlation, but it is impossible to show it didn’t come from other cross-marrying between the genealogical ancestors of Joseph Smith and Sylvia Sessions.

          Everyone appreciate good research, but we must be cautious ignoring credible accounts simply because they don’t square with our current beliefs. This applies to me as well.



        • I must admit that I am a little perplexed because once again Meg Stout calls into question the reputation of some of Joseph Smith’s plural wives and does so without any primary documentary evidence.

          Several of Joseph Smith’s plural wives swore under oath that they had sexual relations with him. They either did and stated so or they did not and lied under oath. I personally will trust their testimonies.

          As for analysis of Josephine Lyons’ DNA showing she wasn’t Joseph’s child, according to Ugo A. Perego, “Joseph Smith, the Question of Polygamous Offspring, and DNA Analysis,” The Persistence of Polygamy: Joseph Smith and the Origins of Mormon Polygamy (Independence, MO: John Whitmer Books, 2010), 252-254, DNA analysis can neither be proven nor disproven because of too much intermingling of Smith and Lyons DNA before and after the Smith-Sessions plural marriage.

          If this has changed, I am not aware. I have sent a message to my friend Ugo for clarification.

      • Brian,

        Why do you get to decide what the most important reasons for practicing polygamy are?

        Quinn only acknowledged one case of polyandry that has evidence of being for “eternity only”, that doesn’t mean you can claim that “eternity only” sealings (plural) were documented. Why does this one “eternity only” marriage mean other women involved in polyandry/polygamy with Joseph Smith were “eternity only” as well, when you have already admitted 12 of Smith’s polygamous marriages included sexual relations?

        What bothers me the most about Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy was how he kept the practice secret from Emma. The secrecy of the practice is what Jake Starkey mentioned. For instance, Smith had a sexual relationship with Fanny Alger without telling Emma. Sure, you could say maybe he was afraid of Emma not accepting the practice of polygamy and being “condemned”, but it is also easy to say he was afraid of being caught doing something he knew was wrong. Either way you look at it, Joseph Smith clearly feared the consequences of telling Emma the truth.

        Hiding a sexual relationship from your wife is just not OK in any circumstance; it doesn’t matter if you secretly married this other person or not. Secretly marrying someone else while you are still married is also not OK. Doctrine and Covenants 132 often refers to Abraham, yet Abraham did not keep his relationship with Hagar secret from his wife. In fact, Abraham’s wife is the one who offered Hagar to Abraham.

        If someone believes in God’s commandment to be honest and claims that God commanded them to practice polygamy, they should just follow both of God’s commands and let the consequences follow.

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