Joseph Smith was involved with Fanny Alger in some type of “girl business” probably around 1836, and Oliver Cowdery referenced this in 1838. What other types of evidence exists of polygamy in Kirtland? Mark Tensmeyer will tell us more.
GT: I’d like to start out talking a little bit about some of the Kirtland-era rumors about polygamy. So, what I thought we could do is start with the 1831 revelation. Mark, could you give people a little background on what that is and give us some details on it?
Mark: So, a lot of times, the 1831 revelation is called the Lamanite revelation. There are pretty much two sources on this. One is a contemporary source,1831, from Ezra Booth, who is one of the first anti-Mormons, one of the first groups to leave the Church and then dedicate themselves to trying to disprove the Church. He says that at one point, he says that there was a thing where Joseph told some of the elders that were going on a mission in 1831, to the Native American people to take wives of the Lamanites, and such. So, William W. Phelps, years and years later, during the Utah period, produced a document that he didn’t claim to be an original from that period, but a reproduction copy of a revelation that Joseph gave him in 1831, where it says to take wives of the native people. The implication being that since some of the men were married, that the Lamanite women they’d be taking as wives would be plural wives. So, that’s pretty much the sources on that.
GT: So, it’s pretty late source with Phelps as far as producing this?
Mark: I believe Phelps evidently reproduced it from memory. I don’t know that he claimed to have a copy or something of that document that he copied the paper off of it. I don’t know too much about it. But it definitely comes from the Utah period. Now, there is some support in that the Ezra Booth account. Even there, that doesn’t mean that it’s supposed to be all the men that we’re supposed to take wives. I’d have to look at it. I know Martin Harris is one that was married, and he might have been the only one. He, of course, was estranged from his wife by that point. So, I don’t know. I think it’s one of those maybe. I mean, it’s one of those things that, for my purpose of trying to show that yes, polygamy is a real thing that Joseph Smith did. I mean, that’s not something I would hang my hat on at all. But, once you’ve established evidence from Nauvoo, that polygamy is something that Joseph Smith did, then something like this seems a bit more plausible. It seems a bit more possible that it might be.
GT: I was just going to say, Dr. Larry Foster from Georgia Tech, he’s non LDS. He’s been one that really kind of goes along with this 1831 revelation.
Mark: I haven’t looked into it too deeply. That’s been my understanding that that’s it. I’m open to the idea. But I think it’s mostly late sources, and the contemporary source, I think the idea of Joseph expressing to these missionaries to take wives of Native American women, I think there’s good possibility that that’s true, but I don’t know that necessarily he meant for married men to take additional wives, when that there may or may not be the case. I don’t know.
GT: Okay, interesting. Let’s move on to the Fanny Alger scrape, affair, whatever you want to call it, and then how Oliver Cowdery testified over that.
Do you think there is enough evidence to support Fanny as a wife of Joseph Smith?
Polygamy skeptics love to point out that DNA evidence has ruled out Joseph as the father of several possible polygamous unions. But is there no evidence of polygamous pregnancies in Nauvoo? Did John C. Bennett perform abortions?
GT: All right. So, another couple of the topics that I’d like to address are the rumors about Dr. John C. Bennett and abortion, that he was stopping pregnancies with abortion. Can you tell us about that?
Mark: My understanding on that is that there’s basically two sources on that. There’s a source, I’d have to find it. It came out in the trials of the men that were associated with John Bennett. They were going through his excommunication process and they either did it right away or he left the Church and left town before they had the chance to [excommunicate him or] he resigned. He claims he resigned and then left town. So, it’s really when his own associates who are involved with him, so Chauncey Higbee, Justice Morse, Lyman Littlefield, those individuals who are involved with him, when they’re put on trial in the High Council, that a lot of this stuff comes out. Some of the women that testified that John Bennett had told them, or one of them had them that if a pregnancy occurred as a result of their activities, then John Bennett would be able to take care of [it.] He’d be able to remove the baby. He knew how to do that as a doctor. He could terminate the pregnancy. So, there’s that source. Then the other source is also years later. It’s at least the 1880s. It’s Sarah Pratt. She says that in an interview with Salt Lake Tribune, that John Bennett had an instrument he had used to perform abortions for Joseph Smith. So, those are pretty much the sources on that.
GT: So, we don’t have any documented record of any abortions that actually happened. These are more rumors. Is that right?
Mark: Um, well…
GT: I guess it should be pointed out that abortion, there was no legality issues.
Mark: There was no legality for plural wives, either, technically speaking.
GT: But, there weren’t any laws against abortion is what I’m trying to say, were there?
Mark: Were there? I don’t know. It was…
GT: I don’t think those happen until much later.
Mark: It might have been.
Mark: if we’re talking about John Bennett as an explanation for why we don’t have any real sure documentation of any offspring of Joseph….
GT: Yeah, that’s where I really wanted to go.
Mark: …Bennett doesn’t really work for that, because he’s out of the picture by April or May 1842, which is really early in the game. At that point, Joseph’s has like eight or 10 plural wives. Most of them either don’t live in Nauvoo–I think all of them either don’t live in Nauvoo, or they have a legal husband. So, theoretically, there’s not really a reason for them to hide a pregnancy. They have a legal husband who is aware of the plural marriage. So, there’s not really a reason to hide it. It doesn’t arouse suspicion that they would become pregnant.
Mark: But, really, it’s 1843 is when Joseph is married. In the middle of 1843, he’s married to the Partridge sisters, and Lucy Walker and Melissa Lott. [These are] younger women that actually stay at the Mansion House, in his house. John Bennett is out of the picture long before that.
Mark: Yeah. So I don’t think that that really works. Is it possible that John Bennett [performed abortions?] I mean, I’ve got to admit my bias as a believing member, that I don’t like the idea of Joseph Smith doing abortions. Objectively speaking, I can’t really discount it. But I don’t think the evidence is so strong that we should say it did happen. I mean, we really just have one source that says that John Bennett suggested it, not necessarily Joseph did. Then, there’s Sarah Pratt, who has some reliability issues. The question came up when William Wall was doing his interview with Wilhelm Wilde at the Salt Lake Tribune. At that point, William Law is really [antogonistic.] I mean, he really paints Joseph in a very, very bad picture. But the question comes up. Were there abortions? And he said, “I don’t think so.” Of course, he wasn’t privy to what was going on when John Bennett was around, but Chauncey Higbee was and he knew Chauncey Higbee pretty well and worked with Chauncey Higbee. And he says, “I don’t think so. I didn’t really hear anything about it.”
GT: So, it seems unlikely that abortions would have happened, right?
Mark: Unlikely. I mean, I can’t say objectively that I could rule it out. Again, there are sources. But I can say that I don’t think the sources we have really direct us to that conclusion.
Can two people have sex and not get pregnant? We’ll talk about these possibilities with Mark Tensmeyer. Why do you think no children are attributed to Joseph outside Emma?
Polygamy skeptics love to claim that D&C 132 is a revelation forged by Brigham Young, and note the revelation wasn’t written in Joseph Smith’s handwriting. They conveniently forget that almost every revelation was written by scribes. We’ll look into this charge with Mark Tensmeyer and see if there is evidence of a forged revelation.
GT: Very good. All right. Well, let’s move on to one of the big issues with polygamy skeptics: section 132. A lot of people I know say, “It wasn’t written by Joseph.” Obviously, Joseph didn’t write much. Most things were written by scribes.
Mark: Almost everything was written by scribes.
GT: Yeah, which, it seems like the skeptics seem to fail to acknowledge [that fact.] So, let’s talk about 132.
Mark: Right. So we talked about that. What we have is we have the manuscript in the handwriting of Joseph Kingsbury. Now, Joseph Kingsbury, he’s involved in a couple of ways. One, he’s the legal husband of one of Joseph’s plural wives, Sarah Ann Whitney, and he marries her after Joseph marries her as a plural wife and at Joseph’s request. So, the idea is that him being Sarah’s husband would mean that she was not available for courting or anything like that. So, there’s that and he’s also the widower of Sarah’s sister, Carolyn. The sister, her sister, Carolyn had died, and he had married her. Joseph had promised to seal him to Carolyn to as part of this arrangement, sealing for eternity to Carolyn.
Mark: He’s also the employee of his father-in-law, Newel K. Whitney, Bishop Whitney. He’s a clerk. The story is that after Hyrum gets this revelation, like I said earlier, he wants to show it to people and wants them to think that this is great and so forth. He shows it to, shortly after it’s committed to paper. He shows it to Bishop Whitney. Bishop Whitney wants a copy of it, and they allow him to. Now the thing is, Newel K. Whitney kept the running collection of manuscripts of Joseph’s revelations and had for a long time. Oliver Cowdery and the scripture committee that compiled the Doctrine & Covenants in 1835, borrowed from Newel K. Whitney’s collection. So, he had canonized, and he had uncanonized revelations. He had a collection of them. So, it’s not unusual that he would, and a few other people did. So, it’s not unusual that he would ask for it, and given [that] Whitney’s obviously an insider into polygamy, as is Joseph Kingsbury. It’s not unusual that they would be involved. So, one of the things that people will argue is well, Joseph Kingsbury is not one of Joseph’s known scribes. That would be significant if this was Joseph’s personal copy. It wasn’t. William Clayton, who was one of Joseph’s known scribes scribed the original copy. This was a copy that was kept by the Whitneys. Brigham Young eventually asked for it in like 1847/1848 at Winter Quarters. Before he does Newell K. Whitney’s son, Horace makes two copies of it, which the family keeps. Those copies are now in the Church History Library. You can review them, and they are word for word the same as the Kingsbury manuscript.
Mark: So, I really don’t see any evidence that the Kingsbury manuscript is a later fabrication. Joseph Kingsbury testified to all this both in an affidavit and then also in the Temple Lot [case.] The argument made by a lot [of people] is that “Well, he didn’t he wouldn’t swear to testimony in the in the Temple Lot case.” But, he affirmed it. He says in there, contrary to how it reads the RLDS abstract, he never said that he was afraid of perjury. He just said that it was his preference to affirm his testimony, rather than to swear it. He’s asked a lot of things throughout about whether he’ll swear to things that are not even controversial, like when he became a High Priest and things like that. He won’t swear to that, either. It’s just, he just didn’t want to do that. He didn’t like to swear to things.
GT: Is that kind of a New Testament thing where Jesus says you’re supposed to yea, yea? Don’t swear.
Mark: You know, a lot of people have that. In the law, too, affirming your testimony here is the same consequence of perjury, if you testify falsely. But, some people, you can say, affirm. In a lot of the federal hearings, I listen to, the judge will just say, “Do you swear or affirm?” The answer is just yes. You don’t have to say which one.
GT: So, legally, it’s the same?
Mark: Yeah, legally, it’s the same.
Mark also details how the RLDS Church and other non-LDS sources accepted the legitimacy of the revelation. What are your thoughts on 132? Would you like to see the sealing ordinance separated from the polygamy?