Saturday, November 26, 2011

Who were these women?

There are distinct patterns to Joseph Smith's polygamy. Before diving into the individual stories of his wives, lets discuss the categories or "sets" into which his wives can be grouped:

1) Emma. Emma Hale eloped with Joseph Smith in 1827. She was the only wife Joseph publicly acknowledged during his lifetime and the only woman with whom Joseph fathered children, based on DNA evidence as of 2011. Emma told her adult children she was Joseph's only wife, though her statement was carefully worded.

2) Levirate wives. These are women for whom Joseph had a biblical duty to care after the death of a brother. Agnes Coolbrith was literally the widow of Joseph's brother. Several of Joseph's other plural wives were widows of 'brothers' in the gospel, so could be included in this group as well.

3) Ladies in Kirtland circa 1831-33. These are women Joseph knew around the time he received the revelation about plural marriage. Of these Joseph only appears to have married Fanny Alger during the 1830s.

4) Daughters of parents to whom Joseph had taught the doctrine of plural marriage. One purpose of marriage is to create a link between families. Certain of Joseph's polygamous marriages were performed with the consent of the woman's family, sometimes even at the insistence of the woman's family.

5) Wives married after Emma entered into the New and Everlasting Covenant in May 1843. According to the Law of Sarah and Joseph's own written revelation about polygamy, a first wife was supposed to be involved in selecting her husband's additional wives. Emma was explicitly involved in approving at least two of Joseph's marriages after she, herself, became Joseph's wife under the "New and Everlasting Covenant" in late May, 1843. There is reason to believe Emma expected to be involved in approving Joseph's wives after their May 1843 'sealing,' and that she did, in fact, select at least some of these later wives for her husband.

6) Ladies approached in Nauvoo before June 1842. By early 1842, Joseph and/or Emma learned unknown but influential men were using the idea of plural marriage to seduce believing women. From February 1842 through May 1842 Joseph and Emma sought to uncover the identities of the seducers and prevent women from falling prey to the seducers. Joseph had an additional goal: teach the true nature of plural marriage to key assistants in the manhunt and victims of the seducers.

7) Ladies married during Bennett's anti-Mormon campaign. By June 1842 the seducers were discovered to be: the mayor of Nauvoo, John C. Bennett; Joseph's youngest brother, William Smith; and sons of Nauvoo Judge Elias Higbee. Bennett was identified as the ring-leader. He left Nauvoo and began a print and lecture campaign against Joseph. Women Joseph married between June 1842 and June 1843 appear to be women who were particularly impacted by either the manhunt for the seducers or Bennett's subsequent smear campaign against Joseph.

In the next several posts I'll explain each of these seven categories in more depth.

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