On May 26,1844,one month before the death of Joseph Smith, he told a large group in Nauvoo that he was not involved in any way with polygamy. He said this,
“What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one. I am the same man, and as innocent as I was fourteen years ago; and i can prove them all perjurers.” History of the Church 6:411.
Meanwhile back at the ranch, in the early 1830’s, Emma begins looking for her dear husband Joseph and Fanny Alger, their live in maid, who is described as their adopted daughter.She finds them making mormon whoopie in the barn. Emma would have none of it and turned her out. Notice that Joseph did not sit Emma down and explain this was a revelation from on high and that Fanny was merely going to be his plural wife in the eternities, with no carnal relations here on earth.
A second thing to notice is that Joseph’s close associates in the Church did not think it was a plural marriage where men get to have sex with multiple partners. That idea came along later as well. Both Oliver Cowdery and Martin Harris considered his relationship with Fanny to be adulterous. Oliver wrote a letter to his brother Warren in January 1838 referring to it as“a dirty, nasty, filthy affair of his and Fanny Alger’s.” Rumors of this sort of behavior had troubled the Mormons in Kirtland and Far West and came to a head in April 1838, when the Far West High Council excommunicated Cowdery on various charges including denigrating Joseph Smith’s character “by falsely insinuating that he was guilty of adultery.” The councils denial of the adultery accusation was not, it should be noted, based on the idea the relationship in question was a plural marriage. It simply accepted Joe’s claim that there was nothing to the accusation. The Cowdery’ letter and documentation concerning his excommunication provide by far the earliest sources of information about Joseph’s relationship with Fanny Alger, and it comes from an associate who was far closer to Joseph in the early 1830’s than any of the people who much later claimed it was a plural marriage.
Was May,26, 1844, the only time Joe and the boys denied they were involved in polygamy? Hardly! Rumors were so rampant that Joe and others were practicing polygamy that Joseph Smith referred people to an extract from Doctrine and Covenants on Marriage which disavowed polygamy, stating that this is “the only rule allowed by the church.” Times and Seasons, vol. 3, p. 909 (1842).
“All legal contracts of marriage made before a person is baptized into this church should be held sacred and fulfilled. Inasmuch as this Church of Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication, and polygamy: we declare that we believe, that one man should have one wife: one woman, but one husband, except in the case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again.”Messenger and Advocate (Aug 1835) pg. 163
“Inasmuch as this Church of Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication and polygamy, we declare that we believe that one man, should have one wife, and one woman but one husband, except in case of death,, when either is at liberty to marry again.”History of the Church, vol. 5, pg. 30 (May 1836)
Meanwhile back at the ranch, Apostle Orson Hyde was sent by Joseph Smith to the Holy Land to dedicate it in April of 1840.The journey ended up keeping him away from home for three years. Meanwhile, Joseph was back at the ranch making the moves on brother Hyde’s wife Marinda. Conveniently, Joe had a revelation straight from the eternities concerning sister Hyde in December 1841. In part, it said this,
“Verily thus saith the Lord unto you my servant Joseph, that inasmuch as you have called upon me to know my will concerning my handmaid Nancy Marinda Hyde.. and let my handmaid Nancy Marinda Hyde hearken to the counsel of my servant Joseph in all things whatsoever he shall teach unto her, and it shall be a blessing upon her and upon her children after her, unto her justification, saith the Lord.”
In the Spring of 1842 she married Joseph. In Joseph’s diary is a list of his marriages. It includes the entry: “Apr 42 Marinda Johnson to Joseph Smith.”. Eight months later, in December, Orson returned from his mission. Now why would Joe be seeking answers from the Lord regarding a married woman? Some have suggested this was in concern for her general welfare. Ok, but he would not need a revelation for that and why would he even be approaching her about plural marriage anyway? It all looks very unseemly.
Another interesting example of this behavior involves a mother and daughter who both were already married to other men.
On February 8, 1842, Sylvia Sessions was sealed to Joseph Smith as a plural wife. Four years earlier, she was married to her lawful husband, Windsor Lyon by none other than Joseph Smith. She was still married to him when she married Joe in 1842. Sylvia’s mother Patty married Joe one month later. She was also married at the time to another man. It turns out there is solid evidence that Sylvia was having sexual relations with her lawful husband and with Joe. Sylvia had a daughter Josephine in February 1844. Shortly before her 1882 death Sylvia called Josephine to her side. Josephine reported in 1915: “She then told me that I was the daughter of the Prophet Joseph Smith.” Through DNA testing, it has been confirmed she was actually the daughter of Windsor. The fact Sylvia suspected Josephine was the daughter of Joe clearly shows she had carnal relations with both men at the same time. Some apologists have attempted mental gymnastics to explain this away but have come up short in this attempt.
Joseph married at least 33 wives in addition to Emma Hale, his only legal wife.Most of these marriages occurred between April 1841 to November 1843.They ranged in age from 14 to 58. 10 of them were teenagers.There were 3 sets of sisters that he married and one mother and daughter, Patty and Sylvia. 14 of these women were lawfully married to other men at the time they married Joe, including Patty, Sylvia, and Marinda. Here Joe participated in polyandrous relationships where a women is married to more than one husband. While he participated in these type of relationships, there was never a system set up for other men to also engage in polyandry. They were confined to polygamy which is where men are married to more than one wife.
Troubling behavior when one stands back and looks at the conduct of Joe. You don’t have to be a religious scholar or an ethics professor to see there is something seriously troubling going on at the ranch whenever Joe gets around women.
What does the Church have to say about all this? We will look at the essay entitled “Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo.” The essay starts off with the declaration that members believe in monogamy and it is the Lord’s standing law of marriage. Already, the nose of the Church is growing on this one. The Church has a complex history with monogamy and early leaders actually preached against it in their official capacity as prophets, seers, and revelators. The essay goes into how some of these women were married to Joseph in the eternities, meaning they would be a plural wife to him instead of enjoying monogamy for eternity with their current husband. The temple ceremony also suggests the possibility of plural marriage in the next life. Men are allowed to marry in the temple after their spouse dies with the understanding they will be a polygamous god in the eternities.
The essay also looks to muddy the water by trying to make the argument that plural marriage is biblical by saying, “in biblical times, the Lord commanded some of His people to practice plural marriage.” This could be a long discussion in itself, but let me hit on a couple points. We have Joe in section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants saying this is true. This of course is the guy who is trying to justify his behavior and convince others. What does the bible say? There is a direct commandment to the Kings of Israel not to engage in this behavior in Deuteronomy 17:17. There are passages that discuss it and show problems that people had who did live it but there is no passage that clearly shows God approved of it.The New Testament has several passages that could be seen as being anti polygamy.
The essay goes on to make this statement, “few records of the time provide details, and later reminiscences are not always reliable.” What they mean by this is they will ignore and disregard later statements that do not fit the narrative they want to put forth but will gleefully discuss later reminiscences that fit what they want to say. Case in point is the essay does not discuss contemporary accounts such as the letter by Oliver which does not regard the Fanny affair as a plural marriage. Instead it says that “several..who lived in Kirtland reported decades later that Joseph Smith had married Alger.” They also violate this principle when discussing how an angel forced Joe to engage in polygamy. These statements are second hand and occurred years later.Joseph Lee Robinson in 1853 tells this story. Lorenzo Snow in 1869, and so on.Even if their recollections are correct, they are going on the word of an established liar who also said he never practiced polygamy while doing so.
The essay goes on to talk about the restoration of the priesthood keys such as Elijah coming to the Kirtland Temple in 1836 to restore the keys that allowed couples to be married for time and all eternity. What the essay does not do at this point is explain how Fanny Alger could be a plural wife when the keys had not been restored at that point or how the revelation had not been received and accepted and voted on by the Church as binding on them. Joe seems to be violating his own teaching from the Book of Mormon which talks about secret combinations.
“Satan put it into the hearts of the people to form secret oaths and covenants”:Hel. 6:21–31
The essay touches on a couple points in section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants which is the section that involves plural marriage. It glosses over how Joseph apparently had given Emma permission from the Lord to also engage in carnal relations with other men but she refused, so the Lord said he was only testing her. I guess she passed. Her reward was she had to give permission as all other Mormon women did, to allow their husbands to take other wives. If not, the essay says, then the men did not need permission. How is that for a package deal for Mormon women? Give us permission to fool around or the lord says we don’t need your permission! Not once has the Church ever rescinded this section or apologized for the self serving language that Joe came up with in it.
The most laughable statement from the essay is this one,” Difficult as it was, the introduction of plural marriage in Nauvoo did indeed “raise up seed” unto God. A substantial number of today’s members descend through faithful Latter-day Saints who practiced plural marriage.” If anything, there would be more descendants of the early pioneers if there had never been polygamy.
Even if you were to take the position that section 132 is from God, it does not explain this type of behavior from Joe, as described Heber C. Kimball’s Wife, Vilate-
“During the summer of 1841, shortly after Heber’s return from England, he was introduced to the doctrine of plural marriage directly through a startling test-a sacrifice which shook his very being and challenged his faith to the ultimate. He had already sacrificed homes, possessions, friends, relatives, all worldly rewards, peace, and tranquility for the Restoration. Nothing was left to place on the altar save his life, his children, and his wife. Joseph demanded for himself what to Heber was the unthinkable, his Vilate. Totally crushed spiritually and emotionally, Heber touched neither food nor water for three days and three nights and continually sought confirmation and comfort from God.” Finally, after “some kind of assurance,” Heber took Vilate to the upper room of Joseph’s store on Water Street. The Prophet wept at this act of faith, devotion, and obedience. Joseph had never intended to take Vilate. It was all a test.” – Biography of Heber C. Kimball, Heber C. Kimball, Mormon Patriarch and Pioneer by Stanley B. Kimball, page 93..
He married their 14 year old daughter instead!
“Now, sisters, list to what I say:
With trials this world is rife,
You can’t expect to miss them all,
Help husband get a wife!
“Now, this advice I freely give,
If exalted you would be,
Remember that your husband must
Be blessed with more than thee.
“Then, O, let us say,
God bless the wife that strives
And aids her husband all she can
T’ obtain a dozen wives.”
1856 Reformation Song. Used as a Hymn in an edition of Songs of Zion. Utah Historical Quarterly, 1928, p. 58.