Criticism of Mormonism/Books/Nauvoo Polygamy/Index/Chapter 1

Table of Contents

Response to claims made in "Chapter 1" (pp. 1-25)

A FairMormon Analysis of: Nauvoo Polygamy: "... but we called it celestial marriage", a work by author: George D. Smith

Response to claim: 1 - The author claims that Louisa Beaman "was about to become the first plural wife of Joseph Smith"

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

The author claims that Louisa Beaman "was about to become the first plural wife of Joseph Smith."

Author's sources: No source provided.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

The mistake: The author ignores the Hancock testimony of a marriage ceremony with Fanny Alger. The author responded by claiming that the reviewer of Nauvoo Polygamy offers no documentation for evidence of a marriage between Joseph and Fanny Alger in Kirtland. See: Joseph Smith Had "Conjugal Relations" with Eight Plural Wives, Says FARMS, Signature Books web site, March 25, 2009.The facts: The publisher's response continues to ignore the Hancock testimony. The review states that the book's author "virtually ignores, however, the data that [Todd] Compton clearly considers the most important—the Mosiah Hancock autobiography, in which Hancock reports that "Father gave her [Fanny] to Joseph repeating the Ceremony as Joseph repeated to him." [1]

Ignoring Hancock autobiography (edit)

Note: This material is part of a collection of draft essays on LDS plural marriage. They are provided for the use of FairMormon and its readers. (C) 2007-2017 Gregory L. Smith. No other reproduction is authorized.

Question: When and how did plural marriage begin in the Church?

Of the little we do know, much comes from later reminiscences

Of the little we do know, much comes from later reminiscences. Later memories are not useless, but memory can change, and can be influenced by what people later came to believe or desire. Such data must be used with caution.

There are enough scattered bits of evidence, however, that let us form some tentative conclusions.

The first specifically-LDS encounter with plural marriage was the 1829 Book of Mormon

The first specifically-LDS encounter with plural marriage was the 1829 Book of Mormon. The prophet Jacob rebuked the Nephites for their practice of having many wives and concubines. Jacob forbade this practice, and declared monogamy to be the norm unless "I will…raise up seed unto me…." [2]

It is not clear that the early Saints contemplated any exceptions to this command in their own case, until after Joseph had taught plural marriage. As late as May 1843, Hyrum Smith (not yet converted to Joseph's plural marriage doctrine) attempted to rebut rumors of plural marriage by citing the condemnation in Jacob 2. [3]

There are no contemporaneous records which tell us when Joseph first taught plural marriage, or when he first had a revelation endorsing it

There are no contemporaneous records which tell us when Joseph first taught plural marriage, or when he first had a revelation endorsing it. One account has Brigham Young placing the revelation to Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith in 1829 while translating the Book of Mormon. [4]

Most scholars have rejected this early date. Brigham was not even a member at this time, so he would have heard such a story second-hand at best, and may well have misunderstood the timing. There is nothing in the Book of Mormon that portrays plural marriage positively, so there is little which would inspire Joseph and Oliver to ask questions about it, and such questioning seems to have been a prerequisite to Joseph and Oliver's early revelations on baptism, the priesthood, and other matters. The journal which records the 1829 date may be in error, since there is another, earlier record in which Brigham Young opines that Joseph had the plural marriage revelation "as early as in the year 1831." [5]

Evidence also points to an 1831 date for receipt of the revelation on plural marriage

Other evidence also points to an 1831 date. Joseph undertook his revision/translation of the Bible, and was working on Genesis in February–March 1831. [6] Hubert Howe Bancroft was the first to suggest this theory, [7] while Joseph Noble, [8] B.H. Roberts, [9] and Joseph F. Smith [10] have agreed. The obvious approval of the polygamous patriarchs in Genesis is a more likely stimulus for Joseph's questions to the Lord about plural marriage than the Book of Mormon's generally negative view.

Joseph's First Mention of the Doctrine in 1831

The date of 1831 is reinforced by a letter written years later by W.W. Phelps. Phelps reported that on 17 July 1831, the Lord told Joseph "It is my will, that in time, ye should take unto you wives of the Lamanites and Nephites, that their posterity may become white, delightsome and just." Phelps then said that he asked Joseph three years later how this commandment could be fulfilled. Joseph replied, "In the same manner that Abraham took Hagar and Keturah; and Jacob took Rachel, Bilhah and Zilpha, by revelation.” [11] Phelps' recollection is reinforced by Ezra Booth, an apostate Mormon. In November 1831, Booth wrote that Joseph had received a revelation commanding a "matrimonial alliance" with the natives, though he says nothing about plural marriage per se. [12]

Since Joseph's explanation to Phelps came three years later, this does not help us date the receipt of the revelation specifically. It may be that Joseph did not understand the import of the July 1831 revelation any more than Phelps did. On the other hand, Orson Pratt reported that Joseph told some early members in 1831 and 1832 that plural marriage was a true principle but that the time to practice it had not yet come. [13] Lyman Johnson also reportedly heard the doctrine from Joseph in 1831, [14] as did a plural wife who recalled late in life that in 1831 Joseph told her that he had been commanded to one day take her as a plural wife. [15] Mosiah Hancock reported that his father was taught about plural marriage in the spring of 1832. [16]

Some authors have suggested that Phelps' late recollection is inconsistent with other things that he wrote earlier. Richard Van Wagoner argues that:

…the Phelps letter has been widely touted as the earliest source documenting the advocacy of Mormon polygamy, [but] it is not without its problems. For example, Phelps himself, in a 16 September 1835 letter to his wife, Sally, demonstrated no knowledge of church-sanctioned polygamy: "I have no right to any other woman in this world nor in the world to come according to the law of the celestial kingdom.” [17]

It seems to me, though, that the problem is more in Van Wagoner's reading of the data. Phelps says nothing about "church-sanctioned polygamy," one way or the other. He merely tells his wife that he has no right to any other woman. This was certainly true, since Joseph Smith had introduced no other men to plural marriage by September 1835. In fact, Phelps' remark seems a strange comment to make unless he understood that there were circumstances in which one could have "right to" another woman. [18]

Joseph F. Smith gave an account which synthesizes most of the preceding data:

The great and glorious principle of plural marriage was first revealed to Joseph Smith in 1831, but being forbidden to make it public, or to teach it as a doctrine of the Gospel, at that time, he confided the facts to only a very few of his intimate associates. Among them were Oliver Cowdery and Lyman E. Johnson, the latter confiding the fact to his traveling companion, Elder Orson Pratt, in the year 1832. (See Orson Pratt's testimony.)" (Andrew Jenson, The Historical Record 6 [Salt Lake City, Utah, May 1887]: 219) [19]

The bulk of the evidence, therefore, suggests that plural marriage was known by Joseph by early 1831. The Prophet was probably teaching the idea to a limited circle by the end of that year.


Response to claim: 1n1 - The author dismisses a marriage with Fanny Alger by simply stating: "There is some evidence that Smith might have engaged in the practice prior to this, but this is the first documented marriage"

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

The author dismisses a marriage with Fanny Alger by simply stating: "There is some evidence that Smith might have engaged in the practice prior to this, but this is the first documented marriage."

Author's sources: No source provided.

Ignoring Hancock autobiography (edit)

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

The mistake: The author ignores the Hancock testimony of a marriage ceremony with Fanny Alger.

Note: This material is part of a collection of draft essays on LDS plural marriage. They are provided for the use of FairMormon and its readers. (C) 2007-2017 Gregory L. Smith. No other reproduction is authorized.

Question: Was Joseph Smith's relationship with Fanny Alger an affair, or was it his first plural marriage?

It seems clear that Joseph, Fanny's family, Levi Hancock, and even hostile witnesses saw their relationship as a marriage, albeit an unorthodox one

Critics charge that Joseph Smith's early plural marriage(s) cannot have been "real" marriages, since the doctrine of "eternal marriage" (i.e., marriages which last beyond the grave) was not introduced until 1841. The Fanny Alger marriage illustrates many of the difficulties which the historian encounters in polygamy. There is little information available, much of it is second hand, and virtually all of it was recorded "after the fact." Even the dates are unclear, and subject to debate.

It seems clear, however, that Joseph, Fanny's family, Levi Hancock, and even hostile witnesses saw their relationship as a marriage, albeit an unorthodox one. The witness of Chauncey Webb and Ann Eliza Webb Young make it untenable to claim that only a later Mormon whitewash turned an affair into a marriage.

Gary J. Bergera, an advocate of the "affair" theory, wrote:

I do not believe that Fanny Alger, whom Compton counts as Smith’s first plural wife, satisfies the criteria to be considered a “wife.” Briefly, the sources for such a “marriage” are all retrospective and presented from a point of view favoring plural marriage, rather than, say, an extramarital liaison…Smith’s doctrine of eternal marriage was not formulated until after 1839–40. [20] </blockqutoe>

There are several problems with this analysis. While it is true that sources on Fanny are all retrospective, the same is true of many early plural marriages. Fanny's marriage has more evidence than some. Bergera says that all the sources about Fanny's marriage come "from a point of view favoring plural marriage," but this claim is clearly false.

Hostile accounts which reported a marriage or sealing

For example, Fanny's marriage was mentioned by Ann Eliza Webb Young, a later wife of Brigham Young's who divorced him, published an anti-Mormon book, and spent much of her time giving anti-Mormon, anti-polygamy lectures. Fanny stayed with Ann Eliza's family after leaving Joseph and Emma's house, and both Ann Eliza and her father Chauncey Webb [21] refer to Joseph's relationship to Fanny as a "sealing." [22] Eliza also noted that the Alger family "considered it the highest honor to have their daughter adopted into the prophet's family, and her mother has always claimed that she [Fanny] was sealed to Joseph at that time." [23] This would be a strange attitude to take if their relationship was a mere affair. And, the hostile Webbs had no reason to invent a "sealing" idea if they could have made Fanny into a mere case of adultery.

Plural marriage was not the same as eternal marriage

Bergera is also mistaken in combining the ideas of plural marriage and eternal marriage. It is true that these ideas were later treated as parts of the same doctrine; however, it is fairly clear that Joseph was teaching a few about plural marriage by 1831 (see here). The idea that marriages could last beyond the grave seems to have come later—but, still not as late as Bergera assumes. On May 26, 1835, WW Phelps wrote to his wife of "[a] new idea, Sally, if you and I continue faithful to the end, we are certain to be one in the Lord throughout eternity; this is one of the most glorious consolations we can have in the flesh." [24] In June, Phelps discussed the doctrine in print, writing:

We shall by and bye learn that we were with God in another world, before the foundation of the world, and had our agency: that we came into this world and have our agency, in order that we may prepare ourselves for a kingdom of glory; become archangels, even the sons of God where the man is neither without the woman, nor the woman without the man in the Lord: A consummation of glory, and happiness, and perfection so greatly to be wished, that I would not miss of it for the fame of ten worlds. [25]

He reinforced this "new idea" in a September 1835 letter to his wife, declaring that he would have a "right to" her "in the world to come according to the law of the celestial kingdom.” [26]

Even if Bergera's estimate was not five years too late, and eternal marriage (i.e., marriage relationships which survive beyond the grave) was not "formulated until after 1839–1840," this would not mean that teachings about plural marriage did not appear until the 1840s. Plural marriage and eternal marriage are distinct concepts, which were formally merged by the revelation(s) included in D&C 132, but they had a long history in Joseph's thought before then.

William Clayton provides an excellent illustration of the conceptual division between the two types of marriage. He entered into plural marriage on April 27, 1843, but would write nearly a month later of his desire "to be united in an everlasting covenant to my [first] wife and pray that it may soon be." [27] Even for Clayton in 1843, plural marriage and a legal first marriage did not subsume or eliminate eternal marriage with the first partner.

Similarly, Parley P. Pratt married his plural wife Belinda on 20 November 1844. Belinda was not endowed until their return from an eastern mission in August 1845, at which point they were again sealed. [28] Clearly, in the early Church plural marriage was conceptually separate from eternal marriage, though the doctrines were related. We cannot, then, use the appearance of one to date the introduction of the other.

Some have wondered how the first plural marriages (such as the Alger marriage) could have occurred before the 1836 restoration of the sealing keys in the Kirtland temple

Some have wondered how the first plural marriages (such as the Alger marriage) could have occurred before the 1836 restoration of the sealing keys in the Kirtland temple (see DC 110:). Again, this confusion occurs because we tend to conflate several ideas. They were not all initially wrapped together in one doctrine:

  1. plural marriage - the idea that one could be married (in mortality) to more than one woman: being taught by 1831.
  2. eternal marriage - the idea that a man and spouse could be sealed and remain together beyond the grave: being taught by 1835.
  3. "celestial" marriage - the combination of the above two ideas, in which all marriages—plural and monogamous—could last beyond the grave via the sealing powers: implemented by 1840-41.

Thus, the marriage to Fanny would have occurred under the understanding #1 above. The concept of sealing beyond the grave came later. }}


Response to claim: 1 - "Had romance blossomed between" Fanny Alger "and the charismatic...prophet"?

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

 Author's quote: "Had romance blossomed between her and the charismatic...prophet"?

Author's sources: No source provided.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The spin: The author implies that romance was a commonly expressed reason for women practicing plural marriage with Joseph.



Womanizing & romance (edit)

Response to claim: 1 - It is noted that Joseph is age 35, while Louisa was 26

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

It is noted that Joseph is age 35, while Louisa was 26.

Author's sources: No source provided.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The spin: The author commonly exploits the presentist fallacy in the matter of Joseph's wives' ages.



Ages of wives (edit)

  • See also ch. Preface: ix
  • See also ch. 1: 1, 22, 29, 30, 31, 32, and 44
  • See also ch. 2: 53
  • See also ch. 2a: 142-143
  • See also ch. 3: 198
  • See also ch. 6: 408

Response to claim: 2 - The author claims that Nauvoo was "a bustling Mississippi River town with several thousand inhabitants"

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

The author claims that Nauvoo was "a bustling Mississippi River town with several thousand inhabitants."

Author's sources: *No source provided.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

This may be true, but the author contradicts himself elsewhere: p. xv: Nauvoo was "a more or less insignificant river town". Yet, Nauvoo was ultimately largest city in the entire state except for Chicago. [29]




Response to claim: 2 - "No one knew precisely when the final end would come, but they knew it was imminent"

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

 Author's quote: "No one knew precisely when the final end would come, but they knew it was imminent."

Author's sources: No source provided.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

The mistake: The author leaves unmentioned that many Christians have always seen the end as imminent, and that Joseph's view was more restrained and pragmatic than most of the sects of the day. See: Richard Lloyd Anderson, "Joseph Smith and the Millenarian Time Table," Brigham Young University Studies 3 no. 3 (1961), 55–66. off-site

2

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

 Author's quote: "With an acquisitive eye on neighboring lands and the will to triumph over older settlers through political bloc voting, Joseph's behavior concerned some of the longtime Illinoisans who lived around the Saints."

FairMormon Response

|authorsources=

  • No source provided.

Bloc voting (edit)

  • See also ch. 1: 2
  • See also ch. 2: 68
  • See also ch. 4: 292–293

See NOTE on bloc voting }}


2

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

"Now fear of [the Mormons'] city-wide militia, use of local petitions of habeas corpus to dismiss state warrants, and rumors of a 'plurality of wives' had put citizens on edge."

FairMormon Response

  • The author fails to tell us that
  1. the Mormons were equally (or more) afraid, having been driven by state militias from two states;
  2. their use of habeas corpus had contemporary case law and legal theory on their side;
  3. dislike for the Mormons was also a strong political motivation in their enemies.

|authorsources=

  • No source provided.

Nauvoo city charter (edit)

  • See also ch. 1: 2
  • See also ch. 2a: 139
  • See also ch. 3: 160, 161, and 163

}}

2

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

The author implies that Latter-day Saints had left their homes in New York "under uneasy circumstances."

FairMormon Response

  • Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

    It is not clear what "uneasy circumstances" the author refers to. The Mormons were not driven from New York, but immigrated to Kirtland, Ohio at Joseph's direction.

3

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

The author suggests that plural marriage "was central to the broad sweep of LDS experience..."

FairMormon Response

  • Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

    Polygamy was unpracticed by anyone but Joseph Smith prior to Nauvoo. Polygamy had nothing to do with Mormons moving from New York. The need to flee Missouri likewise had little to do with plural marriage. Joseph's marriage to Fanny Alger was one factor among many causing problems in Ohio (though the financial problems and collapse of the Kirtland Safety Society were probably more significant).


3-4

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

The author claims that Joseph "chose some thirty three men...who would join him in denying its practice."

FairMormon Response

|authorsources=

  • No source provided.

Hiding polygamy (edit)

  • See also ch. 1: 3-4 and 51
  • See also ch. 4: 247

}}

Response to claim: 4 - The inner circle of plural marriage "would lose one of its key members in 1842 when John C. Bennett quarreled with Smith and then left"

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

The inner circle of plural marriage "would lose one of its key members in 1842 when John C. Bennett quarreled with Smith and then left."

Author's sources: No source provided.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

The mistake: John C. Bennett was never part of the "inner circle" of plural marriage.The facts: There is no evidence that John C. Bennett was ever sanctioned to practice plural marriage. Bennett was never part of the Quorum of the Anointed who received the full temple endowment.

John C. Bennett (edit)

Response to claim: 5 - The author considers it remarkable that Joseph's involvement in polygamy was "largely excised from the official telling of LDS history"

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

The author considers it remarkable that Joseph's involvement in polygamy was "largely excised from the official telling of LDS history."

Author's sources: No source provided.

FairMormon Response

Censorship of Church History (edit)


Response to claim: 6 - It is claimed that Joseph revealed "God's rule" that "no one can reject [polygamy] and enter into my glory"

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

It is claimed that Joseph revealed "God's rule" that "no one can reject [polygamy] and enter into my glory" (D&C 132, 51, 52, 54).

Author's sources: DC 132:52-53,54

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

The mistake: The actual text reads: "I reveal unto you a new and an everlasting covenant; and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory."The facts: Plural marriage was at times a manifestation of the new and everlasting covenant, but even during the polygamous era leaders were clear that one did not necessarily have to practice polygamy to be saved.

Necessary for salvation? (edit)

Response to claim: 6 - It is claimed that Joseph predicted that the Second Coming would occur in 1890

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

It is claimed that Joseph predicted that the Second Coming would occur in 1890.

Author's sources: No source provided

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

The mistake: The author does not provide Joseph's careful caveats about his prediction, and his admitted uncertainties surrounding this issue.

Predicting 2nd Coming (edit)

  • See also ch. 1: 6 and 9
  • See also ch. 8: 535

Question: Did Joseph Smith prophesy that Jesus Christ would return in 1890?

Jesus Christ stated that no mortals or angels would know when He would return

It is important to realize that while Jesus Christ resided on the earth he stated that no mortals or angels would know when He would return:

But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only" (Matthew 24:36).

Because we do not know, we need to constantly be ready for his return, for "in such an hour as ye think not the Son of Man cometh" (Matthew 24:44).

In February 1835, Joseph Smith is reported to have said that "fifty-six years should wind up the scene"

Joseph Smith did make several interesting statements about seeing the Savior. B.H. Roberts in History of the Church notes the Prophet's remark in 1835 when he is reported to have said that,

...it was the will of God that those who went Zion, with a determination to lay down their lives, if necessary, should be ordained to the ministry, and go forth to prune the vineyard for the last time, or the coming of the Lord, which was nigh—even fifty-six years should wind up the scene.[30]

In Feb 1835, fifty six years in the future was February 1891. This would be shortly after Joseph's 85th birthday (he was born 23 December 1805).

Joseph made continuous reference to this date in light of a revelation which he reported. It is recorded in D&C 130:14-17, and it is clear that the revelation leaves the exact date of Christ's second coming much more uncertain. Whatever Joseph meant or understood by "wind up the scene," it must be interpreted in light of the revelation as he reported it, and the conclusions which he drew from it.

This particular revelation is a favorite of anti-Mormon critics. They have misquoted it, misreported it, misinterpreted it and misexplained it. Most often they simply do not complete the quote, making it appear that the Prophet said something he didn't.

Joseph acknowledged as he recorded this revelation that he didn't understand its meaning or intent

The revelation is reported in abbreviated form, and Joseph acknowledged as he recorded it that he didn't understand its meaning or intent:

I was once praying very earnestly to know the time of the coming of the Son of Man, when I heard a voice repeat the following: Joseph, my son, if thou livest until thou art eighty-five years old, thou shalt see the face of the Son of Man; therefore let this suffice, and trouble me no more on this matter. (D&C 130:14-15).

Many critics end the quote at this point, and then they hope the reader will assume that the statement is a prophecy that the Savior would come in the year 1890 or 1891, since the Prophet Joseph was born in 1805. (Other critics do not even bother to cite D&C 130, and simply rely on the quote from the Kirtland Council Minute Book of 1835, reproduced in History of the Church.)

Joseph expresses his uncertainty: "I believe the coming of the Son of Man will not be any sooner than that time"

However, if the reader will continue further in that passage, they will see how Joseph Smith himself understood the revelation, unfiltered through note-takers or critics who wish to explain his meaning:

I was left thus, without being able to decide whether this coming referred to the beginning of the millennium or to some previous appearing, or whether I should die and thus see his face (D&C :130).

The actual content of Joseph's prophecy--if personal opinion can be said to be prophecy--does not occur until the next verse:

I believe the coming of the Son of Man will not be any sooner than that time.(D&C 130:17.)

Without a doubt, Joseph's belief proved correct. The Lord did not return to the earth for His Second Coming before that time.

At least twice, as is recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants, Joseph saw the face of the Son of Man

But there are other aspects of fulfillment that should also be considered. We do not know when it was that the Prophet earnestly prayed to know the time of the Lord's coming. The context, (verse 13), shows that it may have taken place in 1832 or earlier. At least twice, as is recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants, Joseph saw the face of the Son of Man. D&C 76:20-24 and D&C 110:2-10 both record appearances of the Lord Jesus Christ, either of which may constitute fulfillment of the Lord's prophetic promise. He may also have seen the Lord's face at the time of his death in 1844, as he pondered in D&C 130:16.

Joseph made reference to the incident on at least two other occasions, and indicated that his belief was not that the Lord would come by the time of his 85th birthday, but rather that the Lord would not come before that time, which of course was a correct prophecy.

In the History of the Church:

I prophesy in the name of the Lord God, and let it be written--the Son of Man will not come in the clouds of heaven till I am eighty-five years old.[31]

Again, Joseph Smith doesn't say the Lord will come then, but that He will not come before that time. The return to his age 85 shows that all these remarks derive from the same interpretation of his somewhat opaque revelation from the Lord, who seems determined to tell his curious prophet nothing further.

Joseph denies that anyone knows an exact date

Later, Joseph Smith again prophesied on the subject of Christ's coming:

I also prophesy, in the name of the Lord, that Christ will not come in forty years; and if God ever spoke by my mouth, He will not come in that length of time. Brethren, when you go home, write this down, that it may be remembered. Jesus Christ never did reveal to any man the precise time that He would come. Go and read the scriptures, and you cannot find anything that specifies the exact hour He would come; and all that say so are false teachers.[32]

This remark was made on 10 March 1844. It echoes a teaching given through Joseph in the Doctrine and Covenants in March 1831:

And they have done unto the Son of Man even as they listed; and he has taken his power on the right hand of his glory, and now reigneth in the heavens, and will reign till he descends on the earth to put all enemies under his feet, which time is nigh at hand—I, the Lord God, have spoken it; but the hour and the day no man knoweth, neither the angels in heaven, nor shall they know until he comes. (D&C 49:6-7, emphasis added)

Thus, from the beginning to the end of his ministry, Joseph Smith denied that a man could or would know the date of the second coming of Christ. (Joseph's remarks may have been instigated by the intense interest among religious believers in William Miller's prophecy that Christ would return by 1843.)


Response to claim: 7 - It is claimed that Joseph "was familiar with nineteenth century writer Thomas Dick"

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

It is claimed that Joseph "was familiar with nineteenth century writer Thomas Dick."

Author's sources: *Thomas Dick, The Philosophy of a Future State, 2d. American ed. (Brookfield, Mass: n.p., 1830); quoted in LDS Messenger and Advocate 3 (Dec 1836): 423-25.

FairMormon Response

Environmental explanations (edit)

Response to claim: 7 - The author states that Joseph "had already proven his own mettle among God's elect when he mastered the use of magic stones and 'translated' the Book of Mormon"

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

The author states that Joseph "had already proven his own mettle among God's elect when he mastered the use of magic stones and 'translated' the Book of Mormon."

Author's sources: No source provided.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader





Response to claim: 8 - It is claimed that Joseph's "dispensationalism had many past antecedents"

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

It is claimed that Joseph's "dispensationalism had many past antecedents."

Author's sources: No source provided.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The spin: The author here presumes that past dispensationalism had an influence on Joseph. This must be proved, not assumed.



Environmental explanations (edit)

Response to claim: 9 - "Joseph preached as regularly as any other apocalyptic preacher of his day…"

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

"Joseph preached [apocalyptically] as regularly as any other apocalyptic preacher of his day…."

Author's sources: *No source provided.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The spin: How does The author know this? How frequently did other preachers use apocalyptic imagery and themes? Was their percentage of such uses equal to or greater than Joseph's usage?



Response to claim: 9 - The author speculates that Joseph was "understandably hesitant to specify a precise date for the end of the world," but that he knew that "our redemption draweth near"

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

The author speculates that Joseph was "understandably hesitant to specify a precise date for the end of the world," but that he knew that "our redemption draweth near."

Author's sources: Jesse, 306

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

The mistake: The source is referring to the redemption of the Saints in Missouri and their deliverance from persecution.The facts: The quote has nothing to do with the "end of the world."

Predicting 2nd Coming (edit)

  • See also ch. 1: 6 and 9
  • See also ch. 8: 535

Response to claim: 10 - "Without objection from Smith, Matthias asserted: 'The silence spoken of by John the Revelator…is between 1830 & 1851…"

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

On Joshua the Jewish minister [Robert Matthews]: "Smith found him credible enough to converse with from 11:00 a.m. until evening when Smith invited him to stay for dinner." "Without objection from Smith, Matthias asserted: 'The silence spoken of by John the Revelator…is between 1830 & 1851…."

Author's sources: *Jesse, Papers of Joseph Smith, 2:68–73, 568–69.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

"Without objection from Smith" is an argument from silence. No conclusions can be drawn from it.



Response to claim: 11 - "Across the Atlantic, the communal experiment advocated by Marx and Engels appeared in London only a few years later in 1848"

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

Author's quote: "Across the Atlantic, the communal experiment advocated by Marx and Engels appeared in London only a few years later in 1848."

Author's sources: Communist Manifesto (1848; New York: Bantam, 1992).

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The spin: Marx and Engels have no relevance for LDS practice, and are unlikely to have been influenced by Joseph Smith. Invoking Communists may unnecessarily prejudice the modern reader.



Response to claim: 12 - "Polygamy was evidently on Smith's mind even before founding the Mormon Church, if that can be deduced from the marriage formula inscribed in the Book of Mormon"

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

 Author's quote: "Polygamy was evidently on Smith's mind even before founding the Mormon Church, if that can be deduced from the marriage formula inscribed in the Book of Mormon."

Author's sources: * No source provided

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

The mistake: The author assumes that the Book of Mormon reflects Joseph's mind and preoccupations. If Joseph was the translator, it may not.

Early preoccupation with polygamy (edit)

Response to claim: 12 - Yet again the author mentions "elopement," when he notes that the Book of Mormon was "…begun shortly after he eloped with Emma Hale in January 1827"

The author(s) of Mormon Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

Yet again the author mentions "elopement," when he notes that the Book of Mormon was "…begun shortly after he eloped with Emma Hale in January 1827."

Author's sources: * No source provided.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The spin: Nauvoo Polygamy reminds us that Joseph and Emma eloped whenever their marriage is discussed. Perhaps this is intended to demonstrate Joseph's disregard for authority or propriety in all romantic matters.



Emma and Joseph Eloped (edit)

  • See also ch. Preface: xiv
  • See also ch. 1: 12

12

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

Joseph is claimed to have performed a "ritualized five-year search for the gold plates…"

FairMormon Response

|authorsources=

  • No source provided

}}

12

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

It is noted that "[e]ach year at the autumnal equinox, which according to rodsmen and seers was a favourable time to approach the spirits guarding buried treasures, Smith had gone to the hill where he sought after the plates.

FairMormon Response

|authorsources=

  • No source provided

}}

12n29

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

Quoting D. Michael Quinn, it is noted that "that day in September 1823 was ruled by Jupiter, Smith's ruling planet…"

FairMormon Response

|authorsources=

  • D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1998), 120–121 ( Index of claims )
  • Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

    .

Response to claim: 13 - Oliver Cowdery is claimed to have said that Joseph wanted to "commune with some kind of messenger"

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

Oliver Cowdery is claimed to have said that Joseph wanted to "commune with some kind of messenger."

Author's sources: *Oliver Cowdery to W.W. Phelps, LDS Messenger and Advocate 1 [No. 5] (Feb 1835): 79.
  • The quote is incorrect in Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, 125, 134, which the author appears to be quoting without checking Quinn's primary source for accuracy.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

The quote is incorrect. The correct phrase is "some kind messenger."

Response to claim: 13 - Oliver Cowdery said Joseph "had heard of the power of enchantment, and a thousand like stories, which held the hidden treasures of the earth"

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

Oliver Cowdery said Joseph "had heard of the power of enchantment, and a thousand like stories, which held the hidden treasures of the earth."

Author's sources: *Oliver Cowdery to W.W. Phelps, LDS Messenger and Advocate 1 (Feb 1835): 79.
  • CITATION is in ERROR. He is quoting from Quinn, Early Mormonism, 125, 134 & Vogel, Indian Origins, 14–15.
  • Actual quote is found in: Oliver Cowdery to W.W. Phelps, LDS Messenger and Advocate 2/1 (October 1835): 197.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The spin: The phrase is removed from context to emphasize the words "enchantment" and "treasures of the earth."



Response to claim: 13-14 - "Smith elaborated this idea to 'raise up seed' with the signal might [sic] be given again and polygamy would be re-introduced"

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

 Author's quote: "Smith elaborated this idea to 'raise up seed' [in Jacob 2:30] with the signal might [sic] be given again and polygamy would be re-introduced…."

Author's sources: No source provided

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The author again presumes that Joseph is the author of the Book of Mormon.



Early preoccupation with polygamy (edit)

Response to claim: 14 - Smith's charge to missionaries to the Indians when he told single and married men alike that they should marry native women

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

The author states that in 1831 Joseph Smith "sanctioned the first breach in marriage mores. It occurred in Smith's charge to missionaries to the Indians when he told single and married men alike that they should marry native women. Polygamy may have been on his mind….

Author's sources: No source provided.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

The mistake: There is no evidence that married men understood that Joseph was discussing polygamy until at least three years later. [34]

Question: Did the Church suppress a revelation given to Joseph Smith in 1831 which encouraged the implementation of polygamy by intermarriage with the Indians in order to make them a “white and delightsome” people?

The only evidence for this revelation is a letter written by W. W. Phelps in 1861 in which he recounts from memory some of Joseph's comments in Independence, Missouri, on 17 July 1831

It is claimed that the church "suppressed" a 1831 revelation in which the Church was commanded to make the Indians a “white and delightsome” people through polygamous intermarriage. The basis for this claim is a letter written by W. W. Phelps in 1861 (30 years after the revelation was said to have been given) in which he recounts from memory some of Joseph's comments in Independence, Missouri, on 17 July 1831. At present, the only evidence that an 1831 revelation was given is the 1861 document written by Phelps.

According to critics, Joseph Fielding Smith, who was Church historian at the time, stated that the principle of plural marriage was revealed to Joseph Smith in a revelation given in July 1831.[35] Critic Fawn Brodie claims that Joseph Fielding Smith told her about the revelation but would not allow her to see it.[36] Critics conclude that the “real reason” that the revelation was not released was because it commanded Church members to marry the Indians in order to make them a “white and delightsome” people.

The text of W. W. Phelps' 1861 recollection of the revelation

In 1861, 30 years after it was said to have been given, W. W. Phelps wrote from memory his recollection of what he claimed was the revelation given in 1831 by the Prophet:

Part of a revelation by Joseph Smith Jr. given over the boundary, west of Jackson Co. Missouri, on Sunday morning, July 17, 1831, when Seven Elders, viz: Joseph Smith, Jr., Oliver Cowdery, W. W. Phelps, Martin Harris, Joseph Coe, Ziba Peterson, and Joshua Lewis united their hearts in prayer, in a private place, to inquire of the Lord who should preach the first sermon to the remnants of the Lamanites and Nephites, and the people of that Section, that should assemble that day in the Indian country, to hear the gospel, and the revelations according to the Book of Mormon.

Among the company, there being neither pen, ink or paper, Joseph remarked that the Lord could preserve his words as he had ever done, till the time appointed, and proceeded:

Verily, verily, saith the Lord your Redeemer, even Jesus Christ, the light and the life of the world, ye can not discerne with your natural eyes, the design and the purpose of your Lord and your God, in bringing you thus far into the wilderness for a trial of your faith, and to be especial witnesses, to bear testimony of this land, upon which the Zion of God shall be built up in the last days, when it is redeemed. …

[I]t is my will, that in time, ye should take unto you wives of the Lamanites and Nephites, that their posterity may become white, delightsome, and Just, for even now their females are more virtuous than the gentiles.

Gird up your loins and be prepared for the mighty work of the Lord to prepare the world for my second coming to meet the tribes of Israel according to the predictions of all the holy prophets since the beginning; …

Be patient, therefore, possessing your souls in peace and love, and keep the faith that is now delivered unto you for the gathering of scattered Israel, and lo, I am with you, though ye cannot see me, till I come: even so. Amen.

Phelp's wrote his note 30 years after the revelation was said to have been given, after polygamy had been openly practiced for a number of years

A note written by W. W. Phelps in the 1861 document implies that marriage with the Indians coincided with Joseph Smith's planned intent to institute polygamy.

About three years after this was given, I asked brother Joseph, privately, how "we," that were mentioned in the revelation could take wives of the "natives" as we were all married men? He replied instantly "In the same manner that Abraham took Hagar and Keturah; and Jacob took Rachel, Bilhah and Zilpah; by revelation—the saints of the Lord are always directed by revelation."

It is important to note that Phelps wrote his note 30 years after the revelation was said to have been given, after polygamy had been openly practiced for a number of years.


Question: Was Ezra Booth commanded to take a wife from among the Indians?

The only contemporary report of a possible revelation on marriage with the Indians was written in a letter to the Ohio Star on 8 December, 1831 by Ezra Booth

The only contemporary report of a possible revelation on marriage with the Indians was written in a letter to the Ohio Star on 8 December, 1831 by Ezra Booth, who had apostatized from the Church.[37] This letter was republished in Eber D. Howe's anti-Mormon book Mormonism Unvailed. Booth states that,

...it has been made known by revelation, that it will be pleasing to the Lord, should they form a matrimonial alliance with the natives; and by this means the Elders, who comply with the thing so pleasing to the Lord, and for which the Lord has promised to bless those who do it abundantly, gain a residence in the Indian territory, independent of the agent....[38]

Booth makes no mention of polygamy, and instead implies that the "matrimonial alliance" was for the purpose of gaining "residence" in the Indian territory

Booth makes no mention of polygamy, and instead implies that the "matrimonial alliance" was for the purpose of gaining "residence" in the Indian territory.[39] One would think that if Booth, given his opposition to the Church at the time, had been aware of something as controversial as a proposal that polygamy be instituted among the Indians, that he would have been highly motivated to proclaim this in a public forum. In fact, Booth actually states that in order to marry one of the natives, that one elder needed to be "free from his wife." Booth does go on to say:

...It has been made known to one, who has left his wife in the State of New York, that he is entirely free from his wife, and he is at pleasure to take him a wife from among the Lamanites. It was easily perceived that this permission was perfectly suited to his desires. I have frequently heard him state that the Lord had made it known to him, that he is as free from his wife as from any other woman; and the only crime I have ever heard alleged against her is, she is violently opposed to Mormonism. But before this contemplated marriage can be carried into effect, he must return to the State of New York and settle his business, for fear, should he return after that affair had taken place, the civil authority would apprehend him as a criminal (emphasis added).[40]

This quote implies that it was not to be a polygamous union.

It was always implied that the process of becoming "white and delightsome" was to be achieved through the power of God—not through intermarriage

There are quotes from Church leaders indicating that they believed that the Indians were becoming "white and delightsome." However, it was always implied that the process of becoming "white and delightsome" was to be achieved through the power of God—not through intermarriage. Critics cite a statement made by Spencer W. Kimball in the October 1960 General Conference, 15 years before he became president of the Church:

I saw a striking contrast in the progress of the Indian people today ... they are fast becoming a white and delightsome people.... For years they have been growing delightsome, and they are now becoming white and delightsome, as they were promised.... The children in the home placement program in Utah are often lighter than their brothers and sisters in the hogans on the reservation.[41]

Although this is an interesting statement by President Kimball, it has nothing whatsoever to do with polygamy or intermarriage with the Indians. It is simply President Kimball’s own observation that he felt that the Indians were becoming a “white and delightsome” people through the power of God. Then-Elder Kimball was likely unaware that Joseph Smith had edited the Book of Mormon text in 1837 to say "pure and delightsome," possibly to counter the idea that the change referred to was predominantly physical, rather than spiritual. This change was lost in future LDS versions of the Book of Mormon until 1981.

There is no evidence that the instructions contained in the revelation regarding intermarriage with the Native Americans were actually implemented

There is no contemporary evidence, other than that provided by Booth, that anyone was even aware of the revelation at the time that it was supposed to have been given. The only evidence that a revelation was even given is the 1861 document by W. W. Phelps, which he recalled word-for-word from memory 30 years later at a time when the Church was actively and publicly justifying the practice of polygamy.

It is also interesting to note that the typical critical argument against polygamy is that a revelation on polygamy was not received until 1843 and that prior to that time that Joseph Smith was living in adultery with his plural wives. Yet, in this case, the critics are perfectly content to argue the case for a revelation on polygamy actually existing in 1831 as long as it can be tied to making the Native Americans a "white and delightsome" people. While there is evidence that Joseph was discussing plural marriage by 1831, it is difficult to believe that Phelps' text is an exact rendition of any revelation Joseph may have shared with him.


Response to claim: 14 - "Through intermarriage, Smith said, the Indians would become white, delightsome, and just"

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

 Author's quote: …W.W. Phelps reported on the prophet's instructions in all their antebellum racism. Through intermarriage, Smith said, the Indians would become white, delightsome, and just" and fulfill the Book of Mormon prophecy that 'the scales of darkness shall begin to fall from their eyes; and many generations shall not pass away among them, save they shall be a white [pure] and delightsome people."

Author's sources: *W.W. Phelps to Brigham Young, Aug. 12, 1861, LDS Archives.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

The mistake: The author presumes that Joseph's expression was about race, rather than behavior. (The expression is the Book of Mormon's, but for The author its views are always the same as Joseph Smith's because he is presumed to be the author.)

Response to claim: 14n34 - It is noted that the 1840 Book of Mormon substituted the word 'pure' for 'white,' and that the wording "reverted back to 'white' again in the English 1841 and later foreign editions, then became 'pure' again in 1981.

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

It is noted that the 1840 Book of Mormon substituted the word 'pure' for 'white,' and that the wording "reverted back to "white" again in the English 1841 and later foreign editions, then became 'pure' again in 1981."

Author's sources: * No source provided.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

The mistake: The author doesn't tell us dropping Joseph's change from "white" to "pure" was an accident, and intended to be permanent from 1837 onward.

Question: Why was the phrase "white and delightsome" changed to "pure and delightsome" in the 1840 edition of the Book of Mormon?

This change was originally made in the 1840 edition, lost, and then restored again in the 1981 edition

This change was originally made in the 1840 edition but because subsequent editions were based off the European editions (which followed the 1837 edition), the change did not get perpetuated until the preparation of the 1981 edition. The change is not (as the critics want to portray it) a "recent" change designed to remove a "racist" original.

The idea that the Church has somehow "hidden" the original text or manuscripts of the Book of Mormon in order to hide this is simply unbelievable. Replicas of the 1830 Book of Mormon are easily obtained on Amazon.com, and the text is freely available online. In addition, Royal Skousen has extensively studied the original Book of Mormon manuscripts and published a critical text edition of the Book of Mormon. The claim by the critics that the Church has somehow hidden these items is seriously outdated.

The change in the 1840 edition was probably made by Joseph Smith

This change actually first appeared in the 1840 edition, and was probably made by Joseph Smith:

  • 2 Nephi 30:6 (1830 edition, italics added): "...they shall be a white and a delightsome people."
  • 2 Nephi 30:6 (1840 edition, italics added): "...they shall be a pure and a delightsome people."

The 1837 edition was used for the European editions, which were in turn used as the basis for the 1879 and 1920 editions, so the change was lost until the 1981 edition

This particular correction is part of the changes referred to in the note "About this Edition" printed in the introductory pages:

"Some minor errors in the text have been perpetuated in past editions of the Book of Mormon. This edition contains corrections that seem appropriate to bring the material into conformity with prepublication manuscripts and early editions edited by the Prophet Joseph Smith."

It’s doubtful that Joseph Smith had racism in mind when the change was done in 1840 or other similar verses would have been changed as well.

The "pure" meaning likely reflected the original intent of the passage and translator

Furthermore, "white" was a synonym for "pure" at the time Joseph translated the Book of Mormon:

3. Having the color of purity; pure; clean; free from spot; as white robed innocence....5. Pure; unblemished....6. In a scriptural sense, purified from sin; sanctified. Psalm 51.[42]

Thus, the "pure" meaning likely reflected the original intent of the passage and translator.


Response to claim: 14n34 - "other passages in the Book of Mormon still refer to 'white' as 'delightsome' and a 'skin of blackness' as a 'curse'"

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

The author states that "other passages in the Book of Mormon still refer to 'white' as 'delightsome' and a 'skin of blackness' as a 'curse' (2 Ne. 5; Jacob 3:5, 8-10; Alma 3-6-9; 3 Ne. 2:14-15; Morm. 5:15)."

Author's sources: N/A

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

The mistake: The author ignores that many (if not most/all) of these scriptures have a symbolic role, as illustrated in Joseph's change discussed above (though the author apparently tries to undercut that impression). Richard L. Bushman, LDS author of a recent biography of Joseph Smith, writes:
...[T]he fact that [the Lamanites] are Israel, the chosen of God, adds a level of complexity to the Book of Mormon that simple racism does not explain. Incongruously, the book champions the Indians' place in world history, assigning them to a more glorious future than modern American whites.... Lamanite degradation is not ingrained in their natures, ineluctably bonded to their dark skins. Their wickedness is wholly cultural and frequently reversed. During one period, "they began to be a very industrious people; yea, and they were friendly with the Nephites; therefore, they did open a correspondence with them, and the curse of God did no more follow them." (Alma 23:18) In the end, the Lamanites triumph. The white Nephites perish, and the dark Lamanites remain. [43]

Skin color important in LDS scriptures?

Question: What was the Lamanite curse?

The Book of Mormon talks of a curse being placed upon the Lamanites

And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them. 2 Nephi 5:21

It is claimed by some that the Church believed that Lamanites who accepted the Gospel would become light-skinned, and that "Mormon folklore" claims that Native Americans and Polynesians carry a curse based upon "misdeeds on the part of their ancestors."

One critic asks, "According to the Book of Mormon a dark skin is a curse imposed by God on the unrighteous and their descendants as a punishment for sin. Do you agree with that doctrine? (Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 12:22-23, Alma 3:6, 2 Nephi 5:21-22, Jacob 3:8, 3 Nephi 2:15-16, Mormon 5:15; references to the "Lamanites" are taken to be referring to Native American "Indians".)" [44]

Although the curse of the Lamanites is often associated directly with their skin color, it may be that this was intended in a far more symbolic sense than modern American members traditionally assumed

The curse itself came upon them as a result of their rejection of the Gospel. It was possible to be subject to the curse, and to be given a mark, without it being associated with a change in skin color, as demonstrated in the case of the Amlicites. The curse is apparently a separation from the Lord. A close reading of the Book of Mormon text makes it untenable to consider that literal skin color was ever the "curse." At most, the skin color was seen as a mark, and it may well have been that these labels were far more symbolic and cultural than they were literal.


Question: Did some Church leaders believe that the skin of the Lamanites would turn white?

Some Church leaders, most notably Spencer W. Kimball, made statements indicating that they believed that the Indians were becoming "white and delightsome"

Once such statement made by Elder Kimball in the October 1960 General Conference, 15 years before he became president of the Church:

I saw a striking contrast in the progress of the Indian people today ... they are fast becoming a white and delightsome people.... For years they have been growing delightsome, and they are now becoming white and delightsome, as they were promised.... The children in the home placement program in Utah are often lighter than their brothers and sisters in the hogans on the reservation. [45]

President Kimball felt that the Indians were becoming a “white and delightsome” people through the power of God as a result their acceptance of the Gospel. This was not an uncommon belief at the time. At the time that this statement was made by Elder Kimball, the Book of Mormon did indeed say "white and delightsome." This passage is often quoted relative to the lifting of the curse since the phrase "white and delightsome" was changed to "pure and delightsome" in the 1840 (and again in the 1981) editions of the Book of Mormon. The edit made by Joseph Smith in 1840 in which this phrase was changed to "pure and delightsome" had been omitted from subsequent editions, which were actually based upon the 1837 edition rather than the 1840 edition. The modification was not restored again until the 1981 edition with the following explanation:

Some minor errors in the text have been perpetuated in past editions of the Book of Mormon. This edition contains corrections that seem appropriate to bring the material into conformity with prepublication manuscripts and early editions edited by the Prophet Joseph Smith.

Is the lifting of the curse associated with a change in skin color?

The Lamanites are promised that if they return to Christ, that "the scales of darkness shall begin to fall from their eyes:"

And the gospel of Jesus Christ shall be declared among them; wherefore, they shall be restored unto the knowledge of their fathers, and also to the knowledge of Jesus Christ, which was had among their fathers.

And then shall they rejoice; for they shall know that it is a blessing unto them from the hand of God; and their scales of darkness shall begin to fall from their eyes; and many generations shall not pass away among them, save they shall be a pure and a delightsome people.2 Nephi 30:5-6

The Book of Mormon indicates that the lifting of the curse of the Lamanites was the removal of the "scales of darkness" from their eyes

It seems evident from the passage in 2 Nephi that the lifting of the curse of the Lamanites was the removal of the "scales of darkness" from their eyes. It is sometimes indicated that Lamanites who had converted to the Gospel and thus had the curse lifted also had the mark removed. If the mark was more in the eyes of the Nephites than in a physical thing like actual skin color, its removal is even more easily understood.

And their curse was taken from them, and their skin became white like unto the Nephites; And their young men and their daughters became exceedingly fair, and they were numbered among the Nephites, and were called Nephites. And thus ended the thirteenth year. 3 Nephi 2:15-16

As with the invocation of the curse followed by the application of the mark, this passage indicates that the curse was revoked and the mark was removed when the Lamanites' skin "became white like unto the Nephites." The Book of Mormon makes no mention of any change in skin color as the result of the conversion of Helaman's 2000 warriors, yet these Lamanites and their parents had committed themselves to the Lord, and were often more righteous than the Nephites were.

Thus, although a change in skin color is sometimes mentioned in conjunction with the lifting of the curse, it does not appear to always have been the case. And, as discussed above, it may well be that Nephite ideas about skin were more symbolic or rhetorical than literal/racial. This perspective harmonizes all the textual data, and explains some things (like the native Lamanite and his band of Nephite troops deceiving the Lamanites) that a literal view of the skin color mark does not.

Leaders were probably unaware of a change made by Joseph Smith to the first edition text

Joseph Smith altered the phrase "white and delightsome" (in 2 Nephi 30:6) to "pure and delightsome" in the second edition of the Book of Mormon. This change was lost to LDS readers until the 1981 edition of the scriptures. It may, however, demonstrate that Joseph Smith intended the translation to refer to spiritual state, not literal skin color per se.


Question: Why were the chapter headings in the Book of Mormon modified to remove "skin of blackness"?

Chapter headings modified in the 2006 Doubleday edition of the Book of Mormon reflect the view of the curse being a separation from the presence of the Lord, rather than a "skin of blackness."

Some recent changes in the Book of Mormon's modern chapter headings further reinforce the idea that the "skin of blackness" was actually a separation from the Lord.

These headings are not part of the translated text and were never present in the 1830 edition. The most significant expansion of chapter headings occurred in the 1981 edition of all of the Standard Works. Changes made in the chapter headings of the 2006 Doubleday edition reflect the view of the curse being a separation from the presence of the Lord, rather than a "skin of blackness." Note the following two changes to the chapter headings between the 1981 and 2006 (Doubleday) editions (emphasis added): [46]

Chapter Chapter 1981 (Official LDS Church Edition) 2006 (Doubleday Edition)
2 Nephi 5 Because of their unbelief, the Lamanites are cursed, receive a skin of blackness, and become a scourge unto the Nephites. Because of their unbelief, the Lamanites are cut off from the presence of the Lord, are cursed, and become a scourge unto the Nephites.
Mormon 5 The Lamanites shall be a dark, filthy, and loathsome people Because of their unbelief, the Lamanites will be scattered, and the Spirit will cease to strive with them


Response to claim; 14n34 - The author claims that skin color was important in LDS scriptures, and notes that "blacks of African ancestry were denied full participation in the church until 1978"

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

The author claims that skin color was important in LDS scriptures, and notes that "blacks of African ancestry were denied full participation in the church until 1978."

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

The mistake: The author ignores that issues of race and skin color may well have been read into these scriptures in a post hoc manner. His brief treatment of these volatile issues is inadequate, and serves only to prejudice the reader against the early Saints and their later religious heirs. (See next entry below.)

Response to claim: 14n34 - "Interestingly, the rhetoric underlying the theology may have resulted from 1830s Mormons trying to convince their neighbors in the slave state of Missouri that they were not abolitionists"

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

 Author's quote: "Interestingly, the rhetoric underlying the theology may have resulted from 1830s Mormons trying to convince their neighbors in the slave state of Missouri that they were not abolitionists."

Author's sources: * Campbell, "'White' or 'Pure': Five Vignettes," Dialogue 29 (Winter 1996) 119-120
  • Lester E. Bush Jr. and Armand L. Mauss, Neither White nor Black (SLC, Signature Books, 1994).

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

The mistake: The author avoids drawing the obvious conclusion—the "importance" of skin color "in other LDS scriptures" as it applied to race may have been read in as justification for the rhetoric. Thus, the scripture reading followed the rhetoric; the theology did not derive from the scriptures.

Response to claim: 15 - Ezra Booth claimed that the mission to the Lamanites was to secure a "matrimonial alliance with the natives"

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

Ezra Booth claimed that the mission to the Lamanites was to secure a "matrimonial alliance with the natives." The author notes that the missionaries "did not seem successful in this area."

Author's sources: Deseret News (20 May 1886); Ezra Booth letter, Ohio Star, (8 Dec 1831).

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

The mistake: Booth is probably wrong; the accounts say Joseph didn't explain the plural marriage issue until 3 years later, so married men could hardly be out looking for Indian wives in 1831.

Question: Did the Church suppress a revelation given to Joseph Smith in 1831 which encouraged the implementation of polygamy by intermarriage with the Indians in order to make them a “white and delightsome” people?

The only evidence for this revelation is a letter written by W. W. Phelps in 1861 in which he recounts from memory some of Joseph's comments in Independence, Missouri, on 17 July 1831

It is claimed that the church "suppressed" a 1831 revelation in which the Church was commanded to make the Indians a “white and delightsome” people through polygamous intermarriage. The basis for this claim is a letter written by W. W. Phelps in 1861 (30 years after the revelation was said to have been given) in which he recounts from memory some of Joseph's comments in Independence, Missouri, on 17 July 1831. At present, the only evidence that an 1831 revelation was given is the 1861 document written by Phelps.

According to critics, Joseph Fielding Smith, who was Church historian at the time, stated that the principle of plural marriage was revealed to Joseph Smith in a revelation given in July 1831.[47] Critic Fawn Brodie claims that Joseph Fielding Smith told her about the revelation but would not allow her to see it.[48] Critics conclude that the “real reason” that the revelation was not released was because it commanded Church members to marry the Indians in order to make them a “white and delightsome” people.

The text of W. W. Phelps' 1861 recollection of the revelation

In 1861, 30 years after it was said to have been given, W. W. Phelps wrote from memory his recollection of what he claimed was the revelation given in 1831 by the Prophet:

Part of a revelation by Joseph Smith Jr. given over the boundary, west of Jackson Co. Missouri, on Sunday morning, July 17, 1831, when Seven Elders, viz: Joseph Smith, Jr., Oliver Cowdery, W. W. Phelps, Martin Harris, Joseph Coe, Ziba Peterson, and Joshua Lewis united their hearts in prayer, in a private place, to inquire of the Lord who should preach the first sermon to the remnants of the Lamanites and Nephites, and the people of that Section, that should assemble that day in the Indian country, to hear the gospel, and the revelations according to the Book of Mormon.

Among the company, there being neither pen, ink or paper, Joseph remarked that the Lord could preserve his words as he had ever done, till the time appointed, and proceeded:

Verily, verily, saith the Lord your Redeemer, even Jesus Christ, the light and the life of the world, ye can not discerne with your natural eyes, the design and the purpose of your Lord and your God, in bringing you thus far into the wilderness for a trial of your faith, and to be especial witnesses, to bear testimony of this land, upon which the Zion of God shall be built up in the last days, when it is redeemed. …

[I]t is my will, that in time, ye should take unto you wives of the Lamanites and Nephites, that their posterity may become white, delightsome, and Just, for even now their females are more virtuous than the gentiles.

Gird up your loins and be prepared for the mighty work of the Lord to prepare the world for my second coming to meet the tribes of Israel according to the predictions of all the holy prophets since the beginning; …

Be patient, therefore, possessing your souls in peace and love, and keep the faith that is now delivered unto you for the gathering of scattered Israel, and lo, I am with you, though ye cannot see me, till I come: even so. Amen.

Phelp's wrote his note 30 years after the revelation was said to have been given, after polygamy had been openly practiced for a number of years

A note written by W. W. Phelps in the 1861 document implies that marriage with the Indians coincided with Joseph Smith's planned intent to institute polygamy.

About three years after this was given, I asked brother Joseph, privately, how "we," that were mentioned in the revelation could take wives of the "natives" as we were all married men? He replied instantly "In the same manner that Abraham took Hagar and Keturah; and Jacob took Rachel, Bilhah and Zilpah; by revelation—the saints of the Lord are always directed by revelation."

It is important to note that Phelps wrote his note 30 years after the revelation was said to have been given, after polygamy had been openly practiced for a number of years.


Question: Was Ezra Booth commanded to take a wife from among the Indians?

The only contemporary report of a possible revelation on marriage with the Indians was written in a letter to the Ohio Star on 8 December, 1831 by Ezra Booth

The only contemporary report of a possible revelation on marriage with the Indians was written in a letter to the Ohio Star on 8 December, 1831 by Ezra Booth, who had apostatized from the Church.[49] This letter was republished in Eber D. Howe's anti-Mormon book Mormonism Unvailed. Booth states that,

...it has been made known by revelation, that it will be pleasing to the Lord, should they form a matrimonial alliance with the natives; and by this means the Elders, who comply with the thing so pleasing to the Lord, and for which the Lord has promised to bless those who do it abundantly, gain a residence in the Indian territory, independent of the agent....[50]

Booth makes no mention of polygamy, and instead implies that the "matrimonial alliance" was for the purpose of gaining "residence" in the Indian territory

Booth makes no mention of polygamy, and instead implies that the "matrimonial alliance" was for the purpose of gaining "residence" in the Indian territory.[51] One would think that if Booth, given his opposition to the Church at the time, had been aware of something as controversial as a proposal that polygamy be instituted among the Indians, that he would have been highly motivated to proclaim this in a public forum. In fact, Booth actually states that in order to marry one of the natives, that one elder needed to be "free from his wife." Booth does go on to say:

...It has been made known to one, who has left his wife in the State of New York, that he is entirely free from his wife, and he is at pleasure to take him a wife from among the Lamanites. It was easily perceived that this permission was perfectly suited to his desires. I have frequently heard him state that the Lord had made it known to him, that he is as free from his wife as from any other woman; and the only crime I have ever heard alleged against her is, she is violently opposed to Mormonism. But before this contemplated marriage can be carried into effect, he must return to the State of New York and settle his business, for fear, should he return after that affair had taken place, the civil authority would apprehend him as a criminal (emphasis added).[52]

This quote implies that it was not to be a polygamous union.

It was always implied that the process of becoming "white and delightsome" was to be achieved through the power of God—not through intermarriage

There are quotes from Church leaders indicating that they believed that the Indians were becoming "white and delightsome." However, it was always implied that the process of becoming "white and delightsome" was to be achieved through the power of God—not through intermarriage. Critics cite a statement made by Spencer W. Kimball in the October 1960 General Conference, 15 years before he became president of the Church:

I saw a striking contrast in the progress of the Indian people today ... they are fast becoming a white and delightsome people.... For years they have been growing delightsome, and they are now becoming white and delightsome, as they were promised.... The children in the home placement program in Utah are often lighter than their brothers and sisters in the hogans on the reservation.[53]

Although this is an interesting statement by President Kimball, it has nothing whatsoever to do with polygamy or intermarriage with the Indians. It is simply President Kimball’s own observation that he felt that the Indians were becoming a “white and delightsome” people through the power of God. Then-Elder Kimball was likely unaware that Joseph Smith had edited the Book of Mormon text in 1837 to say "pure and delightsome," possibly to counter the idea that the change referred to was predominantly physical, rather than spiritual. This change was lost in future LDS versions of the Book of Mormon until 1981.

There is no evidence that the instructions contained in the revelation regarding intermarriage with the Native Americans were actually implemented

There is no contemporary evidence, other than that provided by Booth, that anyone was even aware of the revelation at the time that it was supposed to have been given. The only evidence that a revelation was even given is the 1861 document by W. W. Phelps, which he recalled word-for-word from memory 30 years later at a time when the Church was actively and publicly justifying the practice of polygamy.

It is also interesting to note that the typical critical argument against polygamy is that a revelation on polygamy was not received until 1843 and that prior to that time that Joseph Smith was living in adultery with his plural wives. Yet, in this case, the critics are perfectly content to argue the case for a revelation on polygamy actually existing in 1831 as long as it can be tied to making the Native Americans a "white and delightsome" people. While there is evidence that Joseph was discussing plural marriage by 1831, it is difficult to believe that Phelps' text is an exact rendition of any revelation Joseph may have shared with him.


Response to claim; 15 - "As Emma regarded her handsome spouse, what in Joseph's youthful experiences may have suggested the unusual family arrangements that were to follow?"

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

The author speculates that "One wonders when Emma Smith might have first suspected that her husband was contemplating plural marriage…As Emma regarded her handsome spouse, what in Joseph's youthful experiences may have suggested the unusual family arrangements that were to follow?"

Author's sources: No source provided.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The spin: The author again presumes that Joseph's "youthful experiences" presaged plural marriage. He has not demonstrated this.




Response to claim: 15 - "We know Joseph often stayed overnight on visits with other families. Was Emma aware that later marriages would develop out of these family visits among their close friends?"

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

Author's quote: "We know Joseph often stayed overnight on visits with other families. Was Emma aware that later marriages would develop out of these family visits among their close friends? Could she have seen this coming—the injunction to enter into 'celestial marriage'?"

Author's sources: No source provided.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The spin: Of course, everyone else at the time probably stayed overnight on visits with families too, especially if poor and on the frontier.



Response to claim: 15-16 - "An examination of Smith's adolescence from his personal writings reveals some patterns and events that might be significant in understanding what precipitated his polygamous inclination"

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

 Author's quote: "An examination of Smith's adolescence from his personal writings reveals some patterns and events that might be significant in understanding what precipitated his polygamous inclination."

Author's sources: Early preoccupation with polygamy (edit)

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The spin: Or, it might not. As it turns out, it isn't.




19-20

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

William Stafford is quoted as remembering "Joseph…looking in his glass" and seeing "spirits…clothed in ancient dress" standing guard over treasures."

FairMormon Response

The author is here using the Hurlbut-Howe affidavits uncritically, without addressing their numerous problems.

|authorsources=

}}

20

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

Joseph is claimed to have cut "a sheep's throat [and] led [it] around a circle while bleeding," in order to "appease the evil spirit."

FairMormon Response

|authorsources=

  • No source provided, but is from William Stafford affidavit in Howe.

}}

20

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

It is claimed that Joseph "'professed to tell people's fortunes' by gazing at a 'stone which he used to put in his hat,'…."

FairMormon Response

|authorsources=

  • No source provided, but is from Henry Harris affidavit in Howe.

}}

21

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

The author states that Joseph's 1842 letter to John Wentworth "left out any reference to the sinful thoughts he had previously mentioned. He had come effectively to de-emphasize the feelings of sin and guilt he had once experienced."

FairMormon Response

The author again presumes that Joseph's works referred to "sinful thoughts," which he has tried to tie to chastity.

|authorsources=

  • History of the Church 4:535–41
  • Jesse, Writings of Joseph Smith, 241–248.

Womanizing & romance (edit)

}}

21

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

The author implies that Joseph "took an interest in polygamy at an early period, beyond what we read in his autobiographies or in the Book of Mormon."

FairMormon Response

|authorsources=

  • No source provided.

Womanizing & romance (edit)

}}

21

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

 Author's quote: "What was new about this [1838] account [of Moroni's visit] was that this time the 1823 angelic announcement was preceded by an 1820 'First Vision,' which included not just 'personages' or 'angels' but a visitation by the God of heaven—'The Father and The Son.'"

FairMormon Response

|authorsources=

  • No sources provided.

}}

22

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

Lucy Mack Smith said in her history that "in the course of our evening conversation[,] Joseph would give us some of the most ammusing [sic in Smith] recitals…[and] describe the ancient inhabitants of this [American] continent their dress their manner of traveling the animals which they rode."

FairMormon Response

|authorsources=

  • Anderson, Lucy's Book, 329, 345.

}}

22

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

It is noted that there is nothing in Lucy Mack Smith's history about "women, wives, or early struggles with chastity…."

FairMormon Response

|authorsources=

  • No source provided.

Womanizing & romance (edit)

}}

22

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

The book notes that in 1832 Joseph had become involved with Fanny Alger.

FairMormon Response

  • The date is not at all sure. The evidence dates it to either 1833 or 1835; others have not argued for 1832 specifically, and the author provides no evidence or argument for this early date.

|authorsources=

  • No source provided.

Fanny Alger (edit)

Ages of wives (edit)

  • See also ch. Preface: ix
  • See also ch. 1: 1, 22, 29, 30, 31, 32, and 44
  • See also ch. 2: 53
  • See also ch. 2a: 142-143
  • See also ch. 3: 198
  • See also ch. 6: 408

}}

22

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

The author states that "Emma never indicated that her husband had told her anything specifically about his experiences prior to their marriage or the details of his involvement with other women, although she did know about Fanny Alger."

FairMormon Response

|authorsources=

  • No source provided.

Fanny Alger (edit)

}}

22

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

 Author's quote: "…it must have been a fascinating courtship, conducted as it was among unseen spirits and Joseph's unsettling conversations with angels."

FairMormon Response

|authorsources=

  • No source provided.

}}

22

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

The author speculates that "Joseph and Emma had been bound by treasure magic from their first meeting in 1825, because Joseph…[came] to help Josiah Stowell located buried treasure [and] boarded with Emma's father."

FairMormon Response

|authorsources=

  • No source provided

}}

22

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

The author speculates that "[i]t was in a mysterious atmosphere of imaginative lore and a mix of theology and magic that Joseph and Emma eloped."

FairMormon Response

|authorsources=

  • No source provided.

}}

23

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

The author speculates that "[t]he treasure seeker presented himself as someone who had special knowledge that was beyond the woman's ken."

FairMormon Response

|authorsources=

  • No source provided.

}}

25

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

 Author's quote: "What Joseph failed to explain in this [1838] version [of his history of money digging] was the apparent continuum from treasure seeking to finding gold plates or the similar modus operandi in placing a 'seer stone' in a hat…"

FairMormon Response

|authorsources=

  • Van Wagoner and Walker, "Joseph Smith: 'The Gift of Seeing,' Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 15 (Summer 1982): 2:50 [sic];
  • George D. Smith, "Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon," Free Inquiry 4 (Winter 1983-84): 27n2.

}}

25

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

 Author's quote: "It is also true that Joseph's career in money digging was much more extensive than he intimated in his 1838 narrative."

FairMormon Response

  • The point of Joseph's 1838 account was not to give extensive details on his youth or past, but to provide the key events of the restoration as he understood them.
  • Joseph Smith/Money digging

|authorsources=

  • No source provided.

}}

Response to claim: 25 - The South Bainbridge "glass-looking" appearance is called "a trial"

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

The South Bainbridge "glass-looking" appearance is called "a trial"

Author's sources: *No source provided.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

The facts: Current scholarship suggests that it was a hearing only.

Question: What is Joseph Smith's 1826 South Bainbridge "trial" for "glasslooking"?

Joseph Smith appeared at a pre-trial court hearing in 1826 for "glasslooking"

In 1825 Josiah Stowel sought out the young Joseph Smith, who had a reputation for being able to use his seer stone to locate lost objects, to help him to locate an ancient silver mine. After a few weeks of work, Joseph persuaded Stowel to give up the effort. In 1826, some of Stowel's relatives brought Joseph to court and accused him of "glasslooking" and being a "disorderly person." Several witnesses testified at the hearing.

Joseph was released without being fined or otherwise punished - there was no verdict of "guilty" or "not guilty" because this was only a hearing rather than a trial

Joseph was ultimately released without being fined and had no punishment imposed upon him. Years later, a bill from the judge was discovered which billed for court services.

Gordon Madsen summarized:

"The evidence thus far available about the 1826 trial before Justice Neely leads to the inescapable conclusion that Joseph Smith was acquitted." [54]

A review of all the relevant documents demonstrates that:

  1. The court hearing of 1826 was not a trial, it was an examination
  2. The hearing was likely initiated from religious concerns; i.e. people objected to Joseph's religious claims.
  3. There were seven witnesses.
  4. The witnesses' testimonies have not all been transmitted faithfully.
  5. Most witnesses testified that Joseph did possess a gift of sight

The court hearing was likely initiated by Stowel's relatives as a concern that he was having too much influence on Stowel

It was likely that the court hearing was initiated not so much from a concern about Joseph being a money digger, as concern that Joseph was having an influence on Josiah Stowel. Josiah Stowel was one of the first believers in Joseph Smith. His nephew was probably very concerned about that and was anxious to disrupt their relationship if possible. He did not succeed. The court hearing failed in its purpose, and was only resurrected decades later to accuse Joseph Smith of different crimes to a different people and culture.

Understanding the context of the case removes any threat it may have posed to Joseph's prophetic integrity.


Question: What events resulted in Joseph Smith's 1826 court appearance in South Bainbridge?

Josiah Stowell requested Joseph Smith's help in locating an ancient silver mine

In the spring of 1825 Josiah Stowell visited with Joseph Smith "on account of having heard that he possessed certain keys, by which he could discern things invisible to the natural eye." [55] Josiah Stowell wanted Joseph to help him in his quest to find treasure in an ancient silver mine. Joseph was reluctant, but Stowell persuaded Joseph to come by offering high wages. According to trial documents, Stowell says Joseph, using a seer stone, "Looked through stone and described Josiah Stowell's house and out houses, while at Palmyra at Sampson Stowell's correctly, that he had told about a painted tree with a man's hand painted upon it by means of said stone." [56]

Joseph ultimately persuaded Stowell to give up looking for the mine

Joseph and his father traveled to southern New York in November of 1825. This was after the crops were harvested and Joseph had finished his visit to the Hill Cumorah that year. They participated with Stowell and the company of workers in digging for the mine for less than a month. Finally Joseph persuaded him to stop. "After laboring for the old gentleman about a month, without success, Joseph prevailed upon him to cease his operations." [57]

Joseph continued to work in the area for Stowell and others. He boarded at the home of Isaac Hale and met Emma Hale, who was one "treasure" he got out of the enterprise.

The following year, Stowell's sons or nephew (depending on which account you follow) brought charges against Joseph and he was taken before Justice Neely

In March of the next year, Stowell's sons or nephew (depending on which account you follow) brought charges against Joseph and he was taken before Justice Neely. The supposed trial record came from Miss Pearsall. "The record of the examination was torn from Neely's docket book by his niece, Emily Persall, and taken to Utah when she went to serve as a missionary under Episcopalian bishop Daniel S. Tuttle." [58] This will be identified as the Pearsall account although Neely possessed it after her death. It is interesting that the first published version of this record didn't appear until after Miss Pearsall had died.

Stowell's relatives felt that Joseph was exercising "unlimited control" over their father or uncle

William D. Purple took notes at the trial and tells us, "In February, 1826, the sons of Mr. Stowell, ...were greatly incensed against Smith, ...saw that the youthful seer had unlimited control over the illusions of their sire... They caused the arrest of Smith as a vagrant, without visible means of livelihood." [59]

Whereas the Pearsall account says: "Warrant issued upon oath of Peter G. Bridgman, [Josiah Stowell's nephew] who informed that one Joseph Smith of Bainbridge was a disorderly person and an imposter...brought before court March 20, 1826" [60]

So, we have what has been called "The 1826 Trial of Joseph Smith", even though the records show that this wasn't actually a trial. For many years LDS scholars Francis Kirkham, Hugh Nibley and others expressed serious doubts that such a trial had even taken place.


Notes


  1. Mosiah F. Hancock, Autobiography, MS 570, LDS Church Archives, 61–62; Todd Compton, "Fanny Alger Smith Custer: Mormonism's First Plural Wife?" Journal of Mormon History 22/1 (Spring 1996): 189–90. The author of Nauvoo Polygamy says only (in a footnote) that "Compton, Sacred Loneliness, 33, 646, draws from a late reminiscence by Mosiah Hancock to suggest that Smith married Alger in early 1833" (p. 41 n. 90).
  2. Jacob 2:27–30.
  3. Levi Richards Journal, 14 May 1843; cited by Richard S. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989), 54.; Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, 2nd ed. (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 141, 332.
  4. Brigham Young, quoted in Charles L. Walker, "Diary," (Harold B. Lee Library, BYU, 1855–1902), 25–26.
  5. Journal History, 26 August 1857; cited by Hyrum Leslie Andrus, Doctrines of the Kingdom (Salt Lake City, Utah: Desert Book Co., 1999), 489n436.
  6. Robert J. Matthews, "A Plainer Translation": Joseph Smith's Translation of the Bible, a History and Commentary (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1975), 64–67. Also discussed in Danel W. Bachman, "A Study of the Mormon Practice of Polygamy before the Death of Joseph Smith" (Purdue University, 1975), 67 and Danel W. Bachman, "New Light on an Old Hypothesis: The Ohio Origins of the Revelation on Eternal Marriage," Journal of Mormon History 5 (1978): 24. This view is endorsed by Todd Compton, "Fanny Alger Smith Custer: Mormonism's First Plural Wife?," Journal of Mormon History 22/1 (Spring 1996): 178–181.
  7. Bachman, "New Light on an Old Hypothesis," 22n11 notes that Roberts' History of the Church introduction (5:xxix) and Hubert Howe Bancroft, History of Utah (San Francisco: A.L. Bancroft Co., 1889), 161 were the first to posit the role of Joseph's revision of the Bible in the plural marriage revelation.
  8. Joseph Noble, cited in Millennial Star 16:454.
  9. Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, ed. Brigham H. Roberts, 7 vols. (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1980), 5:xxix.
  10. }Joseph F. Smith at funeral of Elizabeth Ann Whitney; cited in Deseret Evening News (18 February 1882).
  11. W.W. Phelps, Letter to Brigham Young, 1861, original in Church Archives, emphasis in original; cited by B. Carmon Hardy, Doing the Works of Abraham: Mormon Polygamy: Its Origin, Practice, and Demise, Kingdom in the West: The Mormons and the American Frontier (Norman, Okla.: Arthur H. Clark Co., 2007), 36–37
  12. Ezra Booth, Letter to the editor, Ohio Star (10 November 1831).
  13. Orson Pratt, "Celestial Marriage," Journal of Discourses, reported by David W. Evans (7 October 1869), Vol. 13 (London: Latter-day Saint's Book Depot, 1871), 192–193.
  14. Lyman Johnson as recounted by Orson Pratt, reported in “Report of Elders Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith," Millennial Star 40/50 (16 December 1878): 788; cited in Bachman, "Mormon Practice of Polygamy", 56.
  15. Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner to Emmeline B. Wells, Summer 1905, LDS Archives; cited by Newell and Avery, Mormon Enigma, 65.
  16. Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 644. ( Index of claims ); citing Mosiah Hancock Autobiography, 61–62.
  17. Richard S. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989), 3n2.
  18. Phelps would publicly teach the idea of eternal marriage soon thereafter: "[W]e came into this world and have our agency, in order that we may prepare ourselves for a kingdom of glory; become archangels, even the sons of God where the man is neither without the woman, nor the woman without the man in the Lord…" - WW Phelps to O[liver] Cowdery, "Dear Brother in the Lord," Latter-day Saint Messenger & Advocate 1/9 (June 1835): 130. See discussion of the Phelps material in Bachman, "New Light on an Old Hypothesis," 28–29
  19. Joseph F. Smith (comment made 4 March 1883) in "Utah Stake Historical Record, 1877–1888," LDS Archives;Richard and Pamela Price, Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy—Vision Articles [from Vision Magazine, Vol. 32–46, 48–51, 53–56], vol. 2 (E-book: Price Publishing Company, n.d.), "LDS Leaders Accused Oliver Cowdery of Polygamy".
  20. Gary James Bergera, "Identifying the Earliest Mormon Polygamists, 1841–44," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 38 no. 3 (Fall 2005), 30n75.
  21. Wilhelm Wyl, [Wilhelm Ritter von Wymetal], Mormon Portraits Volume First: Joseph Smith the Prophet, His Family and Friends (Salt Lake City, Utah: Tribune Printing and Publishing Company, 1886), 57; Ann Eliza Young, Wife No. 19, or the Story of a Life in Bondage, Being a Complete Exposé of Mormonism, and Revealing the Sorrows, Sacrifices and Sufferings of Women in Polygamy (Hartford, Conn.: Custin, Gilman & Company, 1876), 66–67; discussed in Danel W. Bachman, "A Study of the Mormon Practice of Polygamy before the Death of Joseph Smith" (Purdue University, 1975), 140 and Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 34–35.
  22. Ann Eliza would have observed none of the Fanny marriage at first hand, since she was not born until 1840. The Webbs’ accounts are perhaps best seen as two versions of the same perspective.
  23. Young, Wife No. 19, 66–67; discussed by Bachman, "Mormon Practice of Polygamy", 83n102; see also Ann Eliza Webb Young to Mary Bond, 24 April 1876 and 4 May 1876, Myron H. Bond collection, P21, f11, RLDS Archives cited by Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 34 and commentary in Todd Compton, "A Trajectory of Plurality: An Overview of Joseph Smith's Thirty-Three Plural Wives," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 29/2 (Summer 1996): 30.
  24. W.W. Phelps to Sally Phelps, letter (26 May 1835), off-site
  25. WW Phelps, "Letter No. 8," Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 1 no. 9 (June 1835), 130. (italics added)
  26. WW Phelps to Sally Phelps, letter (16 September 1835); cited in Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy, 3 n. 2.
  27. William Clayton Journal (16 May 1843).
  28. David J. Whittaker, "Early Mormon Polygamy Defenses," Journal of Mormon History 11 (1984): 54.
  29. Leonard J. Arrington and Davis Bitton, The Mormon Experience: A History of the Latter-Day Saints, 2nd ed. (New York: Knopf : distributed by Random House/University of Illinois Press, [1979] 1992), 69. ISBN 0252062361. off-site
  30. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 2:182. Volume 2 link
  31. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 5:336–337. Volume 5 link
  32. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 6:254. Volume 6 link
  33. William J. Hamblin, "That Old Black Magic (Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, by D. Michael Quinn)," FARMS Review of Books 12/2 (2000): 225–394. [{{{url}}} off-site]
  34. W.W. Phelps, Letter to Brigham Young, 1861, original in Church Archives, emphasis in original; cited by B. Carmon Hardy, Doing the Works of Abraham: Mormon Polygamy: Its Origin, Practice, and Demise, Kingdom in the West: The Mormons and the American Frontier (Norman, Okla.: Arthur H. Clark Co., 2007), 36–37.
  35. The source is said to be a letter from Joseph Fielding Smith to J. W. A. Baily dated September 5, 1935.
  36. Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1945), 184, footnote. ( Index of claims )
  37. Ezra Booth letter, Ohio Star (Ravenna, Ohio), 8 December 1831.
  38. Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 220. (Affidavits examined)
  39. David Whittaker, "Mormons and Native Americans: A Historical and Bibliographical Introduction," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 18 no. 4 (Winter 1985), 33–60. off-site
  40. Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 220. (Affidavits examined)
  41. Spencer W. Kimbal, Improvement Era (December 1960), 922-23.
  42. Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language (New York: S. Converse, 1828), s.v. "white."
  43. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 99.
  44. Richard Abanes, Becoming Gods: A Closer Look at 21st-Century Mormonism (Harvest House Publishers: 2005). 73, 367 n.138. ( Index of claims ); Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1945), 43. ( Index of claims );Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults (Revised) (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1997), 193, 235. ( Index of claims );Richard Packham, "Questions for Mitt Romney," 2008.;Simon Southerton, Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA, and the Mormon Church (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 2004) 40, 184. ( Index of claims )
  45. Spencer W. Kimball, General Conference Report, October, 1960
  46. No More “Skin of Blackness”?: Race and Recent Changes in the Book of Mormon
  47. The source is said to be a letter from Joseph Fielding Smith to J. W. A. Baily dated September 5, 1935.
  48. Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1945), 184, footnote. ( Index of claims )
  49. Ezra Booth letter, Ohio Star (Ravenna, Ohio), 8 December 1831.
  50. Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 220. (Affidavits examined)
  51. David Whittaker, "Mormons and Native Americans: A Historical and Bibliographical Introduction," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 18 no. 4 (Winter 1985), 33–60. off-site
  52. Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 220. (Affidavits examined)
  53. Spencer W. Kimbal, Improvement Era (December 1960), 922-23.
  54. Gordon A. Madsen, "Joseph Smith's 1826 Trial: The Legal Setting," Brigham Young University Studies 30 no. 2 (1990), 106.
  55. Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations (Liverpool, S.W. Richards, 1853), 103.
  56. Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 4:252–253.
  57. Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations (Liverpool, S.W. Richards, 1853), 103.
  58. H. Michael Marquardt and Wesley P. Walters, Inventing Mormonism: Tradition and the Historical Record (Salt Lake City, Utah: Smith Research Associates [distributed by Signature Books], 1994), 227.
  59. Francis Kirkham, A New Witness for Christ in America: The Book of Mormon, 2 vols., (Salt Lake City: Utah Printing, 1959[1942]), 1:479. ASIN B000HMY138.
  60. Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 4:248–249..